Gaskell House Blogs

Frances Hodgson Burnett – back in Manchester!

3rd March 2022
in blog, Literature, People

We have been incredibly lucky at the House that Ann Thwaite, the biographer of Frances Hodgson Burnett, has donated her collection of FHB books to us. Do watch this space and follow our plans for celebrating such an amazing donation!

I wrote about Frances Hodgson Burnett in our series of blogs about Manchester women writers – she was the first writer I visited – but left her story in 1865, when as a sixteen year old, she went to America with her family to join her Uncle William, who was living in Knoxsville, Tennessee. Ann’s lovely donation has made me find out more about her, to see if she continued to have links with Manchester throughout the rest of her life.

Amazingly, over her lifetime Frances Hodgson Burnett crossed the Atlantic Ocean between the UK and USA thirty three times, and her letters evidence a large and lifelong correspondence with friends in Manchester! Her first trip back was in 1872, when she stayed in England from August until the spring of 1873, and much of this time was spent in Manchester with the Hadfield family. I didn’t mention the Hadfields in my first blog – error! Henry Hadfield and his family were neighbours of the Hodgsons when they were living in Islington Square. He was a drawing master at the Mechanics Institute for nearly fifty years and ‘a well known drawing master and painter‘ according to his 1887 obituary. Henry’s daughters – Sarah, Jane and Alice – ran a school at 19 Islington Square, a Select Seminary for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, which Frances attended. The quote in the first blog ‘Her powers as a storyteller were early developed and at school the children would stand spellbound around her while she improvised for their amusement some story of wonder and adventure’ is from one of the Hadfield sisters. On New Years Day 1873, Frances Hodgson – not yet married to Swan Burnett! – is staying with Henry Hadfield’s sister-in-law at her house, Clifton Hall. Ann Thwaite suggests that her first successful novel That Lass O’ Lowrie’s was born out of this trip, and also that her interest in dialect, which she uses to great effect in the novel, was stimulated by William Gaskell’s Lectures on Manchester Dialect, published at the back of Mary Barton.

She continued to visit Manchester to see friends and family. In 1888, she was a guest of honour at a reception given by the Manchester Arts Club, which was fulsome in its praise. Both That Lass O’ Lowrie’s and Little Lord Fauntleroy are ‘distinguished by a broad humanity.’ Mrs Burnett has ‘conferred by her genius and her various works, honour upon Manchester.‘ Little Lord Fauntleroy ‘has done an immense amount of good in raising the character of human nature throughout the English speaking race.’

As an interesting link with Elizabeth Gaskell, Frances Hodgson Burnett knew the writer Hamilton Aide, who also knew Gaskell. Our blog traces the friendship between Gaskell and Hamilton Aide, who seems to be rather like Charles Eliot Norton, someone who knew everyone! Indeed, at Hamilton Aide’s funeral, Henry James mused on the immense number of persons one had always known him to know – including Elizabeth Gaskell and Frances Hodgson Burnett!

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