In A Little Princess (1905), Francis Hodgson Burnett creates a turn-of-the-century London-based Cinderella story. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, is a truly remarkable heroine. Although raised with extravagant wealth and spoiled with whatever servants, toys, clothes, and so forth she could desire, she remained kind, pleasant, sensitive, and polite.
But reading of a perfectly spoiled child, no matter how remarkable she is, does not make for a fascinating story; one needs conflict to drive the action. In Sara’s case, her adversary is the head mistress of her London boarding school, Miss Minchin, as well as a few other girls in the school who are jealous of her status. When Sara’s fortunes are unexpectedly reversed on her eleventh birthday, her life is placed squarely in the hands of the cross Miss Minchin, who now feels she has a right to put young Sara to work in order to get the unpaid bills covered.
I have compared Sara’s plight to Cinderella, and A Little Princess is a formulaic story. It did feel incredibly familiar, so maybe I did read it or watch a movie version of it at some point. But even if this was my first exposure to the story, it is pretty clear what will happen. This does not necessarily detract from the story. A Little Princess is a story about positive attitude, believing in oneself, and living with positivity and politeness, as if one were a “princess,” even in dire circumstances.
A Little Princess is the kind of book I would have loved as a young child. Sara has an adored doll she talks with (as had I as a young girl). Sara dreams she is a princess, something I likewise enjoyed pretending. She loves to read and to learn, and lives in the stories she imagines as I always have loved doing. I was a romantic, naive child, and in many ways Sara was the same. When her fortunes changed, she depended on her pleasant imagination to get her through. Sara was the perfect girl, the girl I wished I could be.
All that said, as an adult, I found Sara annoyingly too good. I am afraid I am like Miss Minchin: someone so “perfect” would have driven me nuts. I don’t want to be mean as Miss Minchin is, but I’m afraid that’s more in my character. To go along with my pessimistic view of human nature, I’ll add that Sara’s attitude just didn’t strike me as realistic. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the “positive thoughts gets you better” philosophy, so the convenient healing of ill old gentlemen, while it added to the charm for children, simply made me roll my eyes. The book was certainly not a favorite for me this time.
However, even with those inherent feelings of “Oh gag me. No one is like this!”, I still can’t wait to read it to my little girl, when she gets a little older. There are important concepts in the story. I want my children to learn, like Sara did, that no matter what their circumstances, they can rise above them by remembering who they are, including being both my child and a precious spirit child of God. I believe in that in some respects, then, my son is a “prince” and my daughter a “princess”, and I hope I can instill that deep in their hearts, much as Sara’s father did for her.