A Little Princess
by Susan Ross
(London, Ontario, Canada)
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I take A Little Princess off the shelf. It has been in my possession over forty years: dust jacket long gone, spine frayed, pages yellowing but still treasured. I open the cover and see my name and address in a child's handwriting. I smile. Fond childhood memories appear in my mind's eye. This book always reminds me of how fortunate I am to have grown up in prosperity.
Reverently I open the book and begin to reread, for the umpteenth time, one of my all time favourite books.
Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess
Sara Crewe is seven years old. Although pampered, Sara is a very well-mannered and kind-hearted little girl with an unusually bright mind, vivid imagination and a serious nature.
Sara was born in India. Her father, Sara's only and much-loved parent, brings her to a boarding school in England. (India's climate was thought to be bad for children and it is was common practice in those days for children to be placed in boarding schools abroad.)
The school is run by Miss Minchin who appears to be a model of decorum. She is, in truth, a spiteful woman. Miss Minchin realizes Sara is highly intelligent and takes an almost immediate dislike to her. She hides her feelings because Sara is very rich. Sara is treated as a privileged pupil, her every material need catered to.
Sara befriends a spoiled little girl named Lottie and a plain, dull but good-natured child named Ermengarde. In secret, she also befriends the school's ill-used scullery maid, Becky.
Four years later, at Sara's lavish birthday part, a solicitor comes to inform Miss Minchin that Sara's father is dead and that the child is penniless; her father has lost all his money in a failed diamond mine venture.
Miss Minchin heartlessly interrupts the party and curtly informs Sara of her father's death and her new circumstances. Sara is forced to put on an old black dress, too short for her small frame, and is banished from her charming rooms to live in the dismal attic.
For the next several years Sara's life is filled with hardship and hunger. (I am not exactly sure how many years because there is a timeline discrepancy in the story; it is the book's only flaw.) In her dungy little attic her only friends are Becky, who lives in the attic room adjacent to Sara's, a tamed rat named Melchisedec, and Lottie and Ermengarde who sneak up to her room to visit on the rare occasions when opportunity allows.
Determined to withstand the harsh treatment of her "jailer", Miss Minchin, the cook and the other servants with dignity, Sara pretends to be a princess. She is kind, well-mannered and completes her endless chores with intelligence and diligence. Her imagination is her only weapon against adversity and despair.
Meanwhile an "Indian gentleman" (who is, in fact, an Englishman) moves into the townhouse next door. He is searching for the orphaned child of a dear friend. Unbeknownst to either Sara or the gentleman, Mr. Carrisford, Sara is that child. The diamond mines were actually rich in diamonds and Sara, although living in poverty, is actually wealthier than most princesses.
Through a series of events the lives of Mr. Carrisford and Sara begin to intertwine until the two are united.
Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess
I close this heart-warming book of courage, compassion and magic; it still brings tears to my eyes. As usual, I am frustrated by the fact that Miss Minchin’s only penance for her cruelty is that she looses the extremely rich Sara as a student and Becky as a scullery maid; not nearly harsh enough to my vengeful mind. I personally wanted her penniless and in the streets. But, alas, I was not the author.
For those who are interested in seeing the movie after reading the book, there are three versions of A Little Princess that I know of. I highly recommend the Wonderworks version which is true to the book. The movie with Shirley Temple, although enjoyable, takes great liberty in changing the book by inserting a love story with new characters as a sub-plot and changing the ending. I personally hate when they do that. A 1995 version is apparently a remake of that movie. (I can’t remember if I saw it. If I did, it obviously wasn’t memorable.)
I recommend A Little Princess to everyone with children eight and up.
Susan Ross is the author of The Great Bellybutton Cover-up, Say Please to the Honeybees, The Kit Kat Caper and The Rose and the Lily (to be released in 2011) Learn more about Susan at susanross.ca.