FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT was born November 24, 1849, the third child of Eliza Boond and Edwin Hodgson, a prosperous silversmith and ironmonger in Manchester, Great Britain. Before Frances was four, Edwin died, so Eliza Hodgson moved with her five children to a less expensive neighborhood where she could rely on family help. The arrest of all shipment of cotton from the United States during the Civil War soon precipitated a depression in the Manchester economy. The Hodgsons suffered the effects of this shift, so in 1865 Eliza Hodgson accepted her brother's invitation to join him in Tennessee, where prospects seemed better.
The relief the Hodgson family sought, however, was slow in coming. The family settled in a village outside Knoxville, and, while Frances's older brothers went to work for a jeweler in the city, Frances earned a little money by teaching. The neighbors nearest to the Hodgsons were the Burnett family, whose youngest son, Swan, would later marry Frances. In the meantime, Frances started trying to publish some of the stories she had made up to entertain the younger children and herself. In 1868 she sent off two manuscripts; Godey's Lady's Book was accepted, and this was the beginning of Frances's change in fortune. Indeed, the archetypal story of a shift in a good person's fortune, revealing his or her innate nobility, appealed deeply to Frances; she would recast this tale in each of her greatest novels for children. By 1870, when her mother had died and her brothers had proved unable to support the family, Frances took on the task.
Frances's success as a published writer was such that by 1872 she could make a trip to England—a practice she would continue throughout her life. Upon returning, she married Swan Burnett, who was studying to become a doctor. She gave birth to their first son, Lionel, in 1874, and to their second, Vivian, several years later. She continued to be productive, publishing many stories in periodicals, but Swan was not yet successful, and the family suffered financial worries, settling not in Europe, as Frances might have preferred, but in Washington, D.C. Although That Lass o' Lowries was published and reviewed favorably in 1877, Frances suffered from depression. She became absorbed in theosophy, spiritualism, and Christian Science and published a number of popular adult novels, which gave her some financial, though not literary, success and allowed her to make frequent trips away from her family and Washington's extremes of climate.