The author of the classic children’s novels including The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, has been revealed to have had a darker side to her than previously imagined.
The evidence is in the form of a forgotten story discovered in the archives of the British Library, hidden for over 100 years.
Frances Hodgson Burnett is best known for The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, two gentler tales of children- one a little girl who moves from India to the Yorkshire moors, and the other a poor boy who discovers he has inherited a fortune.
However, in 1924, a decade before she died, Hodgson Burnett began writing a series of autobiographical fiction. The stories were published in Good Housekeeping magazine under the title The Romantick Lady. and worked as a “cipher for the author’s imaginative and more fanciful side”, according to the British Library editor Johnny Davidson.
The Christmas in the Fog, published in April 1915, was one of the series and was recently found among the British Library’s papers.
The story is set on a liner excursion to New York enveloped by fog, and a “shabby little boy, carrying a small bundle”, “His face was white, and his eyes had that horribly bewept, almost blinded look one shudders before when one sees it in an older person. That a child’s face and eyes should look so was inhuman – unnatural,” the Secret Garden author writes.
British Library expert Davidson said the story shows “how, in certain real situations, everyone becomes strange, ghostly, and comparable to an ‘actual’ supernatural ghost story”. Hodgson Burnett brings atmosphere and intrigue to the story set in dense fog, describing the foghorn as “a wild and hollow roar such as a Megatherium, as it rooted up and trampled down great trees in a primeval forest in darkest ages, might have bellowed in his lonely rage”.
“The remoteness, the sense of being at once shut in and shut out from the world, from life itself, was an uncanny and spectral thing. A new-born ghost wandering in ghostly spaces as yet unknown, might have felt it,” she writes.
Along with forgotten works by women writers whom the British Library says “pioneered and developed the ‘weird tale’ in the early 20th century”, The Christmas in the Fog will be reissued by the library’s publishing imprint in the anthology Queens of the Abyss, out later this year.