Burnett, Frances Hodgson
- W. Farrell O’Gorman
Burnett, Frances Hodgson (24 November 1849–29 October 1924), author and playwright, was born Frances Eliza Hodgson at Cheetham Hill, Manchester, England, the daughter of Edwin Hodgson, a shopkeeper and silversmith, and Eliza Boond. After her father’s death in 1853, her mother attempted to maintain both his small business and the comfortable middle-class position that the family held, but she finally failed. Frances and her four siblings—she was the third child and first daughter—were soon moved, first to the home of relatives in Seedley Grove and then, in 1855, to Islington Square, a shabbily genteel address deep in industrial Manchester and surrounded on every side by the hovels of impoverished mill workers. Here, where smut rained down from mill smokestacks and pigs rooted in the garbage that lay piled in the streets outside their square, Frances’s mother lived in fear of her children’s infection not only by the physical diseases of the poor but also by their manner of speech. Some protection against the latter threat was offered by the local dame school, which provided Frances with her only formal education. Finally, however, the school neither quashed her fascination with dialects—which would emerge in her later fiction—nor satisfied her intellectual curiosity. In the slums of Manchester she became the autodidact she would remain, one with a self-sustaining imagination and a marked interest in storytelling....