Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

December 28, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Cedric Errol is the 7-year-old son of the deceased Captain Errol, a British subject, and Mrs. Errol, the Captain’s American wife. Captain Errol came from an aristocratic family with a long, distinguished lineage and immense land holdings in England. But he earned his father’s wrath for going to America and marrying an American woman, at which point the gruff, selfish Earl of Dorincourt disowned him. As the novel begins, the Captain has already succumbed to illness, leaving Mrs. Errol and Cedric to lead a quiet, simple life in New York City.

Things change for the Errols when they are visited one day by Mr. Havisham, the Earl of Dorincourt’s lawyer. The Earl’s two elder sons died without leaving heirs, which means the ancient title of Lord Fauntleroy now belongs to Cedric. Further, Lord Fauntleroy is next in line to become Earl of Dorincourt upon his grandfather’s death.

This news is quite shocking to “Dearest” (the name Cedric calls his mother) and Cedric. They never expected the Earl to acknowledge their existence much less give Cedric what was due to him. Since Dearest believes Captain Errol would have wanted Cedric to assume the title of Lord Fauntleroy, she and Cedric prepare to leave for England.

Prior to departure, Mr. Havisham says that the Earl has given him a sum of money to indulge any whims Cedric might have. Instead of greedily buying toys or other items for himself, Cedric chooses to help the various poor working-class people he has befriended in the neighborhood. This gives Mr. Havisham a clear idea of the boy’s character, and he immediately takes a liking to the new lord.

Once in England, Lord Fauntleroy makes a great impression on the Earl of Dorincourt, who had been prepared for a loud, boisterous, greedy little American brat. Lord Fauntleroy’s good looks, fine manners, and innocently generous heart begin to soften the old Earl, and in time the two become the closest of companions. The Earl even learns to accept Mrs. Errol, and the three eventually settle down to live happily ever after.

Liked:

  • Despite Cedric not being the least bit believable as a “real” 7-year-old, he was nevertheless an extremely likable character. The reader can’t help but be on Cedric’s side and hope he gets everything he wants.
  • I think this is a nice story for kids. There’s nothing too traumatic or negative in the pages, and it might lead to some nice daydreams about what it would be like to live in a huge castle, have a pony, and be able to share your wealth with those less fortunate.
  • Burnett’s writing is actually very good, with lots of beautiful descriptions and so forth. This was fun to read for the most part.

Disliked:

  • I thought the Earl’s transformation happened a bit too quickly. Perhaps this is just the result of modern storytelling conventions, but I would have liked to see a bit more conflict between him and Cedric before finally being won over.
  • The story was rather syrupy on the whole, which could be a turnoff for today’s audiences.

Rating:

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a nice enough book with a very likable main character and a decent moral. Sure, adults will have a hard time believing that any such child as Cedric Errol could actually exist, but children might not view the story in that same cynical manner. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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