A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

August 11, 2010

a little princess Plot summary (with spoilers): Little seven-year-old Sara Crewe is the only daughter of Captain Crewe, a widowed officer in the British army. The Captain had been stationed in India, which is where Sara was born and raised. But now that the girl is of school age, Captain Crewe thinks she should go back to England and get her education there. So despite being the closest of companions and the only family either of them has, the two separate. Sara goes to Miss Minchin’s boarding school in London; Captain Crewe returns to India.

Captain Crewe is a rich man, and has made provisions for Sara to have everything she could ever want at Miss Minchin’s. She gets the best rooms, has them richly appointed with exquisite furniture, and also has nicer clothes and toys than any of the other girls. Sara, being the generous, good-natured, kind-hearted child that she is, willingly shares everything she has with the other girls — even the younger ones who are usually left out in the cold or bullied. Unfortunately, this willingness to share does nothing to stamp out the jealousy raging in a few of Sara’s classmates’ breasts, so it’s not long before Sara earns the nickname of “Little Princess”. Her friends use the term lovingly to describe how beautiful and thoughtful Sara is. Her enemies use the term derisively to point out that Sara lords her wealth over the others.

Disaster strikes when Captain Crewe invests his fortune with a friend who claims to have found a diamond mine. The friend thinks all is lost, and runs away rather than own up to the mistake. The Captain soon falls ill after hearing the devastating news and dies, thereby leaving Sara with no benefactor in all the world. Once Miss Minchin is apprised of this fact, she turns Sara into a servant, working her to the bone, putting her up in the cold, dingy attic, and practically starving her to death.

But Sara is the type of child who can bear anything. She uses her imagination to conquer her circumstances, forcing herself to believe that she is a princess wrongly subjected to the ill-treatment she is receiving. A true princess, she says, would accept the burden and show no outward sign of distress. This bearing impress a neighbor, Mr. Carrisford, and greatly outrages Miss Minchin, who would like nothing more than to see the child’s spirit broken.

By the novel’s end, Sara’s incredible patience is rewarded. With the help of a secret friend, her existence in the attic becomes bearable, and with the clearing up of a big misunderstanding, her wealth is restored, making her a little princess once again.

Liked:

  • Little Sara was such a lovely character! My favorite characters in literature are those who, like this tremendous girl, have incredible inner strength and resolve, and can endure whatever the vicissitudes of life or the deliberate cruelties of others hurl their way.
  • This was an encouraging story with important lessons for children. The author stresses the importance of sharing, of treating people as equals (Sara’s relationship with Becky the scullery maid is a prime example), and of making the most of whatever hand you’re dealt. These messages are as relevant today as they were in 1904, when this story was first published.

Disliked:

  • How could I dislike anything in this book? I’d have to have a heart of stone to do that! 🙂 That’s not to say it was perfect, but there’s nothing to actively dislike about it.

Rating:

A Little Princess is a gem of a children’s book. The story is interesting, the main character is exceptional, and everything works out for the best in the end — which is just the way most kids like it. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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