Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Frances Hodgson Burnett ~ "Waiting for the Party"

One would rightfully envision the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Princess, and The Secret Garden in England, would they not, amidst a pastoral scene of walled flora and fauna? Frances Hodgson Burnett was, indeed, born in England, but her family moved to the United States when Frances was fifteen.  In Waiting for the Party, a biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, this fateful passage in her life is described: "She was fifteen and a half and her character was formed. The characteristics she showed then, so she herself maintained, were to stay with her for the rest of her life. She was curious, romantic, buoyant, compassionate, generous, restless and not very wise...The Hodgson family reached Tennessee in June."

 Not only did they move to the United States.  ~ they lived in two small towns in East Tennessee named New Market and Dandridge.  It was 1865, and the Civil War was just over. Although they saw destruction everywhere and had to live in a tiny cabin (which Frances compared to Fenimore Cooper), Frances was enraptured by the forests.

Historic marker dedicated to Frances in New Market, TN
"All you could see were the hills and the forests and the vast clear blue sky. A field sloped upwards beyond the log-cabin. There were green aisles of tall, broad-leaved Indian corn, and beyond the cornfield, the forest. 'There is a wide, wide distance - a distance which is more than a matter of mere space - between a great, murky manufacturing town in England, and the mountains and forests in Tennessee - forests which seemed endlessly deep, mountains covered with their depths of greenness, their pines and laurels, swaying and blooming, vines of wild grape and scarlet trumpet-flowers swaying and blooming among them, tangles with the branches of sumach and sassafras.' Frances stopped pretending in the old way. 'There was no need to pretend...' She began to deal with emotions. In Islingon Squre she had imagined - in the forests she began to feel."

She made money by teaching and gathering berries for the family to sell. She also gave music lessons and started a seminary for young people. She married Dr. Swan Burnett, and somewhere along the line, it seems she befriended the Williams in Greeneville. The Williamses lived in the Dickson-Williams Mansion, once called the "Showplace of East Tennessee." It was here that the famed Confederate General John Hunt Morgan met his untimely end.

The Dickson-Williams Mansion

There is now a room in the mansion dedicated to Frances Hodgson Burnett, and in it is the desk on which she wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy. Her own son had lamented the fact that there were no books for young boys, so she corrected the omission.

Frances Hodgson Burnett Desk
Vintage edition of Little Lord Fauntleroy
How thankful I am that she wrote her timeless classics for girls as well! And what a wonderful surprise to find yet another classical connection in my own backyard.
Secret Garden print by Charles Robinson


  1. Little Lord Fauntleroy is one of my mom's favorites! :-)

  2. I have never read Little Lord Fauntleroy, but loved The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. I had NO IDEA Frances Hodgson Burnett lived much of her life in America, much less E Tennessee! What a delightful connection you made and have now shared with us, discovering her home towns and also her desk at the Dickson-Williams house. How lovely to have found her biography, which I have now also added to my "list" of books! This is such a wonderful series, Kenna! I am enjoying the posts very much!

  3. Thank you Marie! And I have to add Little Lord Fauntleroy to my list as well.

  4. Fascinating what I am learning about "my own back yard" as well!!

  5. That was a very interesting post about someone who searches for and obtains something very real and wonderful. I never knew about her, never read her and there she was right in your back yard. Wow

  6. I read The Little Princess and The Secret Garden when I was little, but I never knew Frances Hodgson Burnett lived in America. Interesting! Have you ever read The White People, also written by her? It's not what you'd expect but it's quite good.