The Dawn of a To-Morrow (by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Frances Hodgson Burnett is best-known for her children's classic literature, including 'A Little Princess' and 'The Secret Garden'. I only learned recently that she wrote several other books, long out of print but available free for the Kindle from Amazon, or Project Gutenburg.

I had somehow assumed that her books would all be for children, so was quite surprised to find that 'The Dawn of a To-Morrow' is decidedly not juvenile fiction, despite being a very short novel.

Antony Dart is the hero of this book, and we meet him in dingy lodgings lying on an uncomfortable bed. This despite his being, evidently, a gentleman. He is depressed, although the word is not used; and in a calm kind of way he has determined to end his life as a pauper.

The style is rather gothic, beginning with lengthy descriptions of the kind of heavy London fog that was common a hundred years ago. This is not as odd as it might seem, since just such a fog is responsible, a little later on, for Antony losing his way back to his lodgings after buying a hand gun. He throws a pound to an urchin girl on a bridge, and is persuaded to buy some coffee...and gradually becomes aware of a world far removed from his own.

Overall it's an encouraging book although I had rather wondered what I was letting myself in for when I started it. There's a fairly overt message about the ignorance of the wealthy, and the plight of the impoverished, with references (albeit non-explicit) to young girls living on the streets, drunkenness, and general squalour.

 There are messages too about being content in any circumstances, and looking for positives, and also a surprisingly modern Christian viewpoint, unexpected from a writer who was far from mainstream in her own beliefs.

Definitely not recommended for young children, but good as a thought-provoking and fairly quick read for teenagers or adults interested in the social history of Victorian times, or indeed looking for a different kind of story.

This has been re-printed in the UK in paperback form, but there are also various Kindle editions; if you can't find a free one, look at Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th July 2011

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