Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Sarah Miller
English 225
Explorations Project
Fall 2012

Frances Hodgson Burnett's Life: Influences in Little Lord Fauntleroy

Note from Sarah Miller to the Fall online class:

Here is my exploration report on Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I wanted to narrow down the topic a bit so I'm specifically looking at the factors of Burnett's life which influenced the writing of "Little Lord Fauntleroy."  Let me know what you think!  Also, I included a bonus Jing link which includes some additional information more specifically about "Little Lord Fauntleroy" such as the effects the book had on the world.  Watch it if you're interested but you don't have to.  Also, I apologize for the background noise and crackling that happen during the Jing.  I had to do my report in the Writing Center.  Hopefully, it's not too distracting and you can hear it well enough.  Thanks!

The Report: 

First half of Explorations Report Jing:

Second half of Explorations Report Jing:

Bonus Exploration Report Jing: 

Reflections on the Project:

As a young girl, there were few stories I loved more than A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  (To be fair, I actually watched the 1995 film adaptation first, but adored the book once I read it.)  From there, I went on to read others of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s such as The Secret Garden (yet somehow missed Little Lord Fauntleroy).  However, the one story which, even today, holds a very special place in my heart is the one about the inspiring Sara Crewe and her heart-breaking journey from riches to rags.  When I learned that one of the books we would be reading for this class was written by the same beloved author, I was thrilled…and I wasn’t disappointed.  I enjoyed Fauntleroy even more than I expected.  However, I started to become curious about the woman behind the curtain.

Who was this amazing writer?  What kind of life did she lead?  Thankfully, my appreciation for history made digging into her rich past an absolute joy.  What I found was that Frances Hodgson Burnett can only be described as a vibrantly colorful woman who lived nothing short of an incredible life.  (Actually, she herself would make a great leading lady in a historical fiction novel showing the numerous ups and downs which wove together to create her inspiring life).  In short, discovering the depth and vitality of her past made this school project one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve ever encountered.

The major problem I had while researching her didn’t have to do with not enough information or a lack of interest in the topic.  My issue was that there was so much fascinating information; I wanted to share it all!  However, I knew that not everyone would feel the same way about a historical figure as I did and, also, I needed to cover everything in ten minutes.  Therefore, I knew that I needed to focus my information around a more concrete topic that my class-mates would be more able to relate to.

I started noticing pretty quickly that the only way I was going to do this was by focusing on Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Luckily, this decision was made pretty easy by the incredible way Burnett’s life and aspects of Fauntleroy were so closely intertwined.  However, as the topic was narrowed, researching became more difficult.  Thankfully, I managed to get a hold of some excellent books and sources which provided me with fantastic information which, without, I would not have been able to do the report from the angle I did.

My major “wow” moments during research all had to do with my surprise at how closely Fauntleroy and Burnett are related.  Judging from the discussion forum, the class shared a similar reaction.  As a result, this project has made me pretty curious about how many authors today write books closely based of off their lives (such as Burnett did with Fauntleroy) and how many don’t.  I also, along with others who presented this idea in the discussion forum, wonder about the reasons why.

I start thinking about historical authors (such as those who may have lived around the time period which Burnett did).  My first thought is that many of them, like Burnett, would write about things they have a) gone through or b) are familiar with because they wouldn’t have access to a very wide realm of information aside from what they experience in their daily lives.  On the other hand, current authors have access to unceasing amounts of information through technological advances.  The convenience of modern research, the explosion in communication, and the ability to travel across oceans quickly would allow an author to easily depict ideas, lives, and events that are on the other side of the world with great accuracy…even if they have never experienced anything closely related.  Maybe, in general, historical authors write about what they know (because they don’t have access to anything else) and present authors write about what they don’t (because they have greater means to do so).

However, there are areas of my research which contradict this idea.  For example, Burnett’s success allowed her to travel to many different parts of the world.  Through this, she was able to network and socialize with several diverse people of all different classes due to her time devoted to both working with the poor and attending high-status events.  Likely, Burnett drew on all these varied experiences to write some of her other stories.  This implies that there could be many other historical authors like her who actually did have the means, knowledge, and intrigue to write about what they didn’t know.  Furthermore, even if most couldn’t travel the world or learn strange things, they may have actually been served by their lack of information about diversity.  Maybe this gave them a greater intrigue and imagination for foreign ideas, which they would expressed in their writing.  This could be the reason for the large quantity of fantasy books which were created during this period.

In contrast, many of today’s authors may actually prefer to write about things that they are familiar with.  I suppose that this could be because they are able to both connect at a greater level with their writing and to present an idea more accurately when they consider themselves qualified judges who have experienced it.  I wonder if modern readers actually prefer writing such as this.  Because we can constantly access such a wide breadth of information, perhaps we aren’t as interested in reading about it.  It could be that what we really connect with are books from authors who write what they know.  Could the greater capacity for depth and richness from this allow the reader to more fully relate to it?   

It’s enjoyable for me to consider all of these ideas.  Actually, I am beginning to be very interested in researching other modern and historical authors to discover if their lives mirror their writing or if it doesn’t affect it at all.  (I just may do that.)  Overall, it was amazing getting to dig deep in such an interesting topic in history and to discover how closely Burnett and Fauntleroy were affected by each other.  I especially enjoyed getting the chance to share these discoveries with others as well as getting to hear their own.    

Works Cited

Carpenter, Angelica Shirley and Shirley, Jean. Frances Hodgson Burnett: Beyond the Secret Garden. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1990. Print.

“Frances Hodgson Burnett”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.

“Frances Hodgson Burnett”. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc., 2007. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.

Bixler, Phyllis. Frances Hodgson Burnett. Twayne English Authors Series. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Print.

Thwaite, Ann. Waiting for the Party: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett 1849-1924. New York: Scribner, 1974. Godine, 1990. Print.

Burnett, Frances Hodgson. Little Lord Fauntleroy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886. Dover Publications, 2002. Print.


Copyright 2012
Sarah Miller


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA