Cultural polarities in Frances Hodgson Burnett's childrens books

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 5
  • Abstract:

    Frances Hodgson Burnett was the product of two cultures, British and American. An interest in the relations between these two cultures pervades her work and forms a significant thematic thread. This article investigates the articulation of such tensions in Burnett’s three most famous children’s books. The cultural polarities at issue in Little Lord Fauntleroy ([1886] 1899), the earliest of the three novels under consideration, are closest to the tensions in Burnett’s own life as a British American. In this novel, Burnett manages to reconcile the American egalitarianism of the protagonist’s early childhood values with an almost feudal concept of noblesse oblige, and it is suggested that this conceptualisation remains imperative also in her later works. In A little princess ([1905] 2008) and The secret garden ([1911] 1968), imperial India is set against England as the primary polarity. Burnett’s exposition is shown to conform to Edward Said’s notions of Orientalism, showing India to constitute an almost archetypal image of the Other, yet the novels are critical of imperialism as causing the distortion of the imperialist as would later be defined by Orwell in Shooting an elephant and other essays (1950). It is suggested that in spite of an ostensible classlessness, the novels express a profoundly conservative and hierarchical vision.