A contemporary and comprehensive new life which tells the full surprising story of the woman who was the author of every girl's favourite childhood classics, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The remarkable woman who wrote those perennial childhood classics, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, lived an unexpected and varied life. Hugely successful in her own time (1849 - 1924) for her adult novels and plays, Frances Hodgson Burnett would be astounded to be remembered for a handful of books for children. From modest beginnings in mid-Victorian Manchester to adulthood in America, where she arrived in post-Civil War Tennessee at the age of fifteen, with her widowed mother, two sisters and two brothers, Burnett was a woman of contrasts and paradoxes. She made, and spent, a fortune; was generous and profligate, yet anxious about money and obsessively hardworking; flighty, yet hard-headed; depressive; amusing and clever (though not well educated).
She published fifty-two books and wrote and produced thirteen plays; she made an early marriage to a Southern doctor and had notorious flirtations and a scandalous affair before making a disastrous second marriage to an English doctor turned actor. She understood the intensity and loneliness of the thoughtful child, but was herself a largely absent mother to two adored sons and she hankered after a kind of grand Englishness - which she finally achieved as lady of the manor at Maytham Hall in Kent, with its own walled garden - but continued to relish the American independence of spirit. She belonged everywhere and nowhere, constantly restless and inventive, a woman ahead of her time, who reinvented for herself and generations to come the magic and mystery of the childhood she never really had.
Gretchen Gerzina is the author of two much praised works of non-fiction, Carrington, the only biography of the Bloomsbury figure Dora Carrington, and Black England, a New York Times 'Notable Book of the Year', about the lives of black people in eighteenth-century London. After many years as a professor of English at Vassar College, she is now a full professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is also an honorary fellow at the University of Exeter. She lives in Vermont.