emma_in_dream: (Singin')
Mary Martha Sherwood wrote “The History of the Fairchild Family” in three volumes, published 1818, 1842 and 1847. I read the first book, which is chiefly about the Fairchild children – Emily, Lucy and Henry – realising that all humans are depraved sinners in need of redemption. To quote from the first few pages:

Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild loved and feared God, and had done so, by the mercy of God, ever since their younger days. They knew that their hearts were very bad, and that they could not be saved by any good thing they could do: on the contrary, that they were by nature fitted only for everlasting punishment: but they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and loved him for having died for them; and they knew he would save them, because he saves all those who trust in him.

The book is essentially a series of vignettes of the children being instructed on the righteous path. Emily, for example, succumbs to the temptation to eat some forbidden plums: 'no eye was looking at her, but the eye of God, who sees every thing we do, and knows even the secret thoughts of the heart; but Emily, just at that moment, did not think of God.'

Even worse, their cousin Augusta plays with candles after being told not to and is burnt alive. The stakes are high in this novel, because every sin is a step towards losing their souls forever. When Mr Fairchild catches his children quarrelling, he first thrashes them, reciting Dr. Watts's 'Let dogs delight to bark and bite' between blows of the cane, and then takes them to spend the afternoon beneath a gibbet where the rotting corpse of a murderer is hanging. Lesson learned.

The works were massively popular in the 19th century, in print constantly until 1913. There is some evidence, though, that it was not always read as intended. Lord Hamilton wrote that 'there was plenty about eating and drinking; one could always skip the prayers, and there were three or four very brightly written accounts of funerals in it.’

Frances Hodgson Burnett, perhaps a more pious child, states that she read it in two sections, first reading the religious statements because she thought she should and then reading the story for pleasure.
emma_in_dream: (Default)
This short story is an extremely minor work by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Three of the four stories are entirely negligible, stories about the proud grain of wheat, the child who goes behind the mirror and a retelling of a fairy tale. I have already read different versions of these tales, by authors like Mrs Molesworth and Louisa May Alcott. I believe this is what we call a potboiler.

The first and most substantial tale is about Elizabeth, raised in France by her pious aunt. After her return to an American guardian she continues to seek to do good, trying to sell her jewels to send money to the impoverished peasants on her French estate, using St Elizabeth and the miracle of the roses as her model.

Hodgson Burnett had already found her niche – children’s stories, with a wish fulfilment element of great riches being bountifully given to the poor, as in *Little Lord Fauntleroy*. This is a less convincing, more religious, version of the same.
emma_in_dream: (Singin')
The biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett features a composite photograph titled 'Image of Eminent Women'.

The writers listed were: Mary Livermore, Sara Jewett, Grace Oliver, Helen Hunt, Nora Perry, Lucy Larcom, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louise Chandler Moulton, Louisa M Alcottt, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

From that list I'd say Louisa M Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett are still read for pleasure. Julia Ward Howe and Harriet Beecher Stowe are read in courses of literary study. Are the others read at all?
emma_in_dream: (Default)
I see that Frances Hodgson Burnett sold every word she ever wrote, from her first story at eighteen, to her last work fifty four years later. All of them were accepted on the first offer.

I had no idea writing was so easy. Falls about laughing.

I'm sure all my writer friends can confirm that this is their experience as well, especially the bit where various editors wrote to her voluntarily offering her more money than was in her contracts.
emma_in_dream: (Fights like a girl)
This novel was incredibly popular – it basically made Frances Hodgson Burnett’s fortune. And yet it is so mediocre. I get the attraction of a rags to riches story, in which the little boy in downtown New York turns out to really be the enormously wealthy heir to an earl.

What I find irritating is that Cedric is so resolutely and invariably good. Always plucky and cheery, always obedient and prone to ‘cute’ wise sayings. He just makes me want to whack him on the head. Which is a feeling which must have been widespread among young boys following the popularisation of velvet ‘Fauntleroy’ suits and curling long hairdos for boys after the publication of this novel. Ditto the popularisation of the name Cedric.

Does this kid look happy?

I find it interesting that only a few years later Ethel Turner took *Little Lord Fauntleroy* off in *The Little Larrikin* (1896). There is one scene in particular, where the sweet, curly headed boy coaxes the governess into giving them a treat by saying that such a beautiful lady must also be good and kind. In *Little Lord Fauntleroy*, Cedric would mean it. And the governess would become, if not beautiful, then at least good and kind. In *The Little Larrikin* he says it entirely cynically, in order to get what he wants.

When I consider that Hodgson Burnett also wrote such gems as *The Lost Prince*, *The Little Princess* and *The Secret Garden*, I am amazed that this was her first success. Because it is a stinker.
emma_in_dream: (otp)
My favourite Yuletide fic was a soul bond, parthenogenesis story set in Frances Hodgson Burnett's *The Lost Prince* (1915). I recommend - Most Fervently by halotolerant.
emma_in_dream: (Default)
Whoops, turns out that *The Little Princess* was published in 1906 so is not in scope for this challenge. Nonetheless, a great read.

I love it because it emphasises the power of imagination, as Sarah triumphs over being forced to work as a skivvy in her school after her father dies and all her money is lost. Sarah’s innate gentility, intelligence and imagination carry her through. (Burnett was very big on the innate qualities of nobility).

I do like the scenes where Sarah and Becky imagine that their rooms in the attic are the Bastille. Even better is the moment when her neighbour arranges for her room to be transformed – by magic! – into a warm, beautiful space.

I have to say, though, that the ending is always a bit weak for me. I get that a deus ex machine is needed to rescue her and restore her fortune. But the neighbour being her father’s lost business partner with the diamond mine fortunes revived has always seemed dodgy for me. To start with, why did he not rescue her before he found out who she was? He knew there was a child in need but did not bother rescuing her until he realised she was a child of his class. (Indeed, there were two children needing rescuing and he did not even bother to send Becky food.) Secondly, what kind of nitwit manages to lose a child in the first place? And how can such a twit be deemed a proper guardian for a child? Especially when she calls herself his ‘Little Missus’ with all the icky going to marry her when she grows up suggested by that phrase.

I read a rather dismissive biographical summary which said that Burnett mostly wrote books with built in obsolescence, pot boilers that she churned out annually. It conceded, though, that she hit gold at least a few times - *Little Lord Fauntleroy*, *The Little Princess*, *The Lost Prince* and *The Secret Garden* are all ‘consumer durables’, works made to last.


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