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 ( 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 ( 2008)
and The secret garden ( 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.