Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Motherless Sara Crewe was sent home from India to school at Miss Minchin's. Her father was immensely rich and she became a "show pupil"-a little princess. Then her father died and his wealth disappeared, and Sara has to learn to cope with her changed circumstances. Her strong character enables her to fight successfully against her newfound poverty and the scorn of her fellows.

The story begins with little Sara Crewe traveling from the life she’s always known living in India with her beloved Father, Captain Crewe, to be schooled like all proper British girls in London. Her father is loathe to let her go but knows he must for her own good. Almost immediately upon arrival, Sara sees quite clearly with her wise beyond her years insight that Miss Minchin, the proprietor of the school, is not a fair lady, although she hides it well enough. Just as immediately, Sara gets the reputation of being a little princess as her father lavishly buys cloths, dolls and comfortable living quarters. But Sara is not the spoiled child you might think her to be, no- quite the opposite. She could have cared less for all the finery if only to stay with her Papa, but of course society says otherwise and far too quickly she is left behind.

Miss Minchin doesn’t make it easy for Sara, of course, but because she values Sara’s money, she plays along with Captain Crewe’s desires of spoiling the child- even when Sara unintentionally repeatedly reveals with her calm spirit that she is far more clever than the mean-spirited proprietress of the boarding school. Then, on the very day of Sara’s 11th birthday, news arrive that her father has passed away, and not only that- all of his money is lost as well.

Miss Minchin, feeling as if tricked into covering Sara’s expenses- expenses assured to be covered by the wealthy Captain Crewe- Miss Minchin takes out her wrath on the grieving child and makes her the drudge of the school, a step only slighter higher than the scullery maid Becky, whom Sara has befriended.

For years Sara suffers under the control of Minchin, doing all the tasks the servants don’t want to do, going to bed starving and cold each night.

But, try as she might, Miss Minchin couldn’t bring the clever girl down to the lowered station she thought she deserved to be in. For Sara Crewe was an expert at bolstering herself with imaginations.

When Minchin was at her worst, Sara’s proud spirit pretended she was soldier on a long and weary march. When given nothing but crumbs she shared it with her friend Melchisedec, the rat who lived in the wall whom Sara pretended had a large family to take care of. No matter how hungry- she gave. She gave stories to a forlorn student whom the other students looked down upon for being fat and stupid and gave unheard of friendship to Becky, a mere scullery maid, who stayed in the room in the attic right next to her. She even gave away five buns to a begger she fell upon quite by accident one day while running errands- all because she believed a true Princess, like the one she imagined herself to be, is not one to complain or take things for herself when aid is needed for the populace.

One day the school becomes a buzz with the news that a wealthy man is moving next door and Sara in her clever mind quickly assigns a story to him to entertain herself in the hours after her drudgery is over, to keep her mind off her hunger. Her curiosity is even more aroused when she meets the wealthy man’s native Indian man servant and his pet monkey one evening when the monkey escapes into her attic window.

Ram Dass, the man servant, is struck by the bright child, and from that moment on, watches with silent eyes and ears every kind thing Sara does and eventually brings it to the wealthy man’s attention. Sensing they can help her, the wealthy neighbor and Ram Dass determine to bless the girl who gives so much yet is treated so poorly- Ram Dass because he knows exactly what’s going on, the wealthy man because the child reminds him of another young girl he lost and is desperate to find.

One evening Sara, possibly at her coldest and hungriest, welcomes her friend Ermengarde into her room. Ermengarde finally realizing how the kindest person in her world is being treated, promptly decides to share a basket sent to her from home, stuffed with treats and food. Delighted Sara arranges the room as a secret surprise for Ermengarde and Becky, while Ermengarde leaves to retrieve the food. When the girls gather together, Sara transports the little group as if by magic to a grand ballroom prepared for a feast, all the while staying in their drab little room. It’s a wondrous time for all the girls, trying with all the might to imagine the beautiful room right along with Sara.

Of course the evil Miss Minchin ruins it.

But perhaps she wouldn't have been so adamant in putting the little princess in her place if she knew that her actions would become the catalyst for Sara to be blessed beyond her own very vivid imagination.

I love this children's novel.

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