A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

This book came at exactly the right time for me. Before this, the last book I read was ten days ago (which is a very long stretch for me) and I was absolutely immersed in the political goings on (as worrying as the situation here is right now, it is also fascinating). When I began A Little Princess last night my intention was just to read a few chapters, but for the two, three hours it took to read everything stopped. All there was was Sara Crewe and I thought of nothing but the story. Not once did I wonder if the government had fallen, if May had resigned, if the Scottish Tories would spell the end, or if the Good Friday agreement was potentially in tatters. All I thought of was what was happening to Sara and what would happen next.

Even though I love The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911), I'd never actually read A Little Princess (1905) or Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) come to that (I must read that soon) but I know A Little Princess is a favourite of many, many readers. And now I know why! In it Burnett tells the story of Sara Crewe, who, at the start of the book, is being taken to Miss Minchin's Seminary for Girls in London by her father Captain Crewe. They clearly love each other very much and are desperately sad to be parting, but Captain Crewe is stationed in India and he knows she will receive a better education in London. And so there she is left, and Crewe returns to India. Sara is pretty in an unusual way, and also very intelligent, imaginative, and well-read and as a consequence Miss Minchin takes a dislike to her, however she hides it as Sara is very rich and, quite simply, is an asset to the school. There Sara makes some friends, Ermengarde and Lottie, as well as the scullery maid Becky, and is on the whole popular though, as with any school, there are some girls who are jealous and mean-spirited. One day however, on Sara's 11th birthday, her world comes crashing down: her father dies, and because he has sunk his money into a diamond mine and lost it, he leaves her penniless. Miss Minchin agrees to keep her on as a servant; she helps teach the younger girls of the school whilst acting as a maid, and she's forced to sleep in the cold, leaking attic in a room next to Becky's.

The attic from A Little Princess (1995; directed by Alfonso Cuarón ). 
Here Sara's imagination, dignity, and courage comes through and goes about her tasks like a little princess, showing kindness and charity, however she is not exactly submissive: her temper, though rarely, does show and she stands up to Miss Minchin when required. Nevertheless with her three faithful friends and a newly tamed rat she bears her ordeal. But then the magic begins and a kind stranger begins to transform her life once more.

It is a beautiful and enchanting book and I enjoyed it so so much! Sara's courage in her suffering is remarkable, though I might note it is an example of how repressed the Victorians seemed to be, and her perseverance is remarkable. It's also of interest in terms of its portrayal of class: how Sara, once celebrated, becomes derided, as well as a few other children, Becky included, who are at best working class, at worst of the underclass. It is magical, but also teaches kindness, charity, and hope. An outstanding novel and I'm so happy to have finally read it.

To finish, some illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts from the 1905 edition:



Comments

  1. Awesome! My advice to you is to keep reading more classic children's novels and you'll feel much better. I can hardly stomach politics anymore ..... the lying, and posturing, and bitterness .... I could go on .... but I won't! I think we should all do an "our top ten uplifting books" post and get ideas from each other and then read, read, read!

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    1. I agree! I would love to do that! I think I'll do that later this week if you don't mind me stealing your idea, maybe throw in some art and music. Excellent idea. Could use a brief period of pleasantness. Not a day goes by without a shock or anger it seems...

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  2. Oh, I love this book! <3 I can't even think of anything else to say about that, except I think escaping into children's classics is a pretty good coping mechanism. UGH.

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    1. Agreed! When I finished this I started on Monkey, and I think when I've finished Monkey I'll be straight into Peter Pan :)

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  3. I love this one, too! It just made me feel GOOD. If you haven't read it, you might also love E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. One of my favorites. :)

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    1. I love Charlotte's Web! Scared of spiders yet I love it :)

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  4. Great review, o! This is one of my favorite "Cinderella" type stories. I grew up watching the 1986 TV adaptation and read an abridged version of the book. I'd like to read the unabridged book, though; there's much I've forgotten about the story.

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    1. Thank you :) I *might* have seen the 1986 version, but I was only about 4 then. Seem to vaguely recall now you've mentioned it...!

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  5. Oh, I love those pictures - I had not seen those before. And I like the idea of "top ten uplifting books." I might steal that idea as well.

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    1. Yes, I'm hoping to put my list together at some point soon. The UK's an utter mess right now so, well, it would be nice to focus on something nice :)

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