BURNETT, Frances Hodgson (1849-1924)
Plaque erected in 1979 by Greater London Council at 63 Portland Place, Marylebone, London W1B 1QP, City of Westminster
FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT 1849-1924 Writer lived here
The writer Frances Hodgson Burnett is best remembered for her children’s novel The Secret Garden (1911). She lived at 63 Portland Place in Marylebone from 1893 until 1898, during which time she wrote her historical novel, A Lady of Quality (1896).
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Born in Manchester, the daughter of Edwin and Eliza Hodgson, Frances spent her early adulthood in the United States. After her marriage in 1873 to Swan Moses Burnett, an American ophthalmologist, Frances divided her time between Washington and London, and was often separated from her family; her marriage finally ended in divorce in 1898.
Her first novel, That Lass o’Lowrie’s, was published in the United States in 1877 and her reputation as a children’s author was established a decade later with Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886).
In autumn 1893 Burnett rented 63 Portland Place, which she sometimes shared with her son Vivian (1876–1937) and her sister Edith Fahnestock (1852–1931). This large 1770s house, with its long chilly passages and cavernous cellars, provided the inspiration for her historical novel, A Lady of Quality (1896). Somewhat in awe of the house’s grandeur, she described how she wanted
to use these big drawing rooms until they are so filled up with the atmosphere of being lived and talked and thought in that they will no longer wear stately airs and graces and suggest that they are great and lofty and that they were built a century ago.
However, Burnett – who enjoyed an opulent lifestyle – struggled to pay the bills and manage her servants, as she documented in her short story The Captain’s Youngest (1894).
THE SECRET GARDEN
It was with some relief that she moved in spring 1898 to the country, renting Maytham Hall in Rolvenden, Kent. The rose garden of this house inspired her best-known literary work, The Secret Garden (1911). By the time of the novel’s publication, Burnett had taken American citizenship, and she died in Long Island, New York, 13 years later.
Panic set in among the Greater London Council’s historians when in 1979 Burnett’s plaque was erected on the wrong house – number 65 rather than number 63. The plaque was hastily removed the following day, before the mortar had set, and was placed in its correct position next door.