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Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess

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Amelia Klein

on 8 February 2015

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Transcript of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess

a wealthy young girl left at a boarding school in Victorian England eventually loses all her family fortune. The girl, Sara, must work at the school as a servant for the cruel Miss Minchin. In order to keep up her spirits, Sara tells stories and pretends she is truly a princess. Through her kindness, including giving hot buns to another starving girl she meets on the street, Sara maintains her princess demeanor though she remains poor. One day, a friend of her father from India finds her and takes Sara away from her miserable life, returning her to her rightful fortune.
The Story
Historical Background II
"Sara Crewe," the beginning tale of "A Little Princess," was written during the Victorian era. The era was marked by a romantic view of life: the country of Britain was prosperous and India, called the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, was a part of that richness. The diamond mines of India that Sara’s father goes off to find his fortune was a popular business with many British families sailing to India. Like Sara, many wealthy British children were sent back to England to go to private schools such as Miss Minchin’s. Only a few years before A Little Princess was written did free schools become widely available (Hodgson Burnett, Coats, & Clarey, 2000).
and she realizes the owner is likely long gone, the baker woman, seeing how hungry Sara is, encourages her to buy some hot buns. Sara does, but instead of eating them all herself, she gives away five of the six hot buns to another starving girl, Anne, that she meets on the street. The baker woman sees this and, unable to get to Sara, decides to give Anne food and a job. When Sara becomes rich again, she visits Anne at the bakery. Frances uses this scene to drive home her message of kindness and compassion as well as the value of economic independence as Anne is no longer an object of charity (Kirkland, 1997).
The Author
an analysis of the classic tale
by Amelia Klein

Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess"
The Characters
More Characters
Becky - the maid and Sara's fellow "prisoner" in the attic

Lottie Leigh - one of the younger girls at school, Lottie likes to throw tantrums until Sara promises to act as her mother

Lavinia Herbert - an older girl at school who is jealous of Sara

Jessie - Lavinia's best friend

Mr. Barrow - Captain Crew's lawyer who brings bad news on Sara's birthday

Melchisedec - a harmless rat that lives in the wall of the attic and Sara befriends

Mr. Carrisford - a sad man from India who moves next door to the school

Ram Dass - an Indian servant to Mr. Carrisford

The Carmichaels (or the Large Family) - a family of eight that lives in the neighborhood and whom Sara watches and make-believes stories about them; Mr. Carmichael is Mr. Carrisford's lawyer

Anne - a starving girl Sara meets on the street on a cold, wet day
Sara Crewe - a motherless young girl who comes to England from India with her father; after losing everything, Sara uses her imagination, kindness, and righteousness to show herself and the world that she is truly a princess

Captain Crewe - Sara's father with whom she is very close

Miss Minchin - the selfish and cold-hearted woman who runs the a boarding school for young ladies

Miss Amelia - Miss Minchin's meek sister

Emily - Sara's doll

Mariette - Sara's French maid at Miss Minchin's school

Monsieur Dufarge - the French teacher who is quite impressed with Sara's perfect French

Ermengarde St. John - Sara's friend at school; a little slow, but with a good heart
Early Life
Author Frances Hodgson Burnett was born Frances Eliza Hodgson on November 24, 1849 in Manchester, England. Frances’ father, Edwin Hodgson, owned the Hodgson Furnishing Business, which was very profitable and allowed the family to live in a large home in a wealthy neighborhood. When Frances was only three years old, her father died of a stroke. With four children and a baby on the way, Mrs. Hodgson did her best to keep the family afloat by managing the store herself. However, times were tough and business was poor. Mrs. Hodgson was forced to move the family to a poorer neighborhood, Islington Square, when Frances was five. To entertain herself and the people around her, Frances began telling stories and playing make-believe. She was recognized as a very gifted storyteller. However after a few years, Mrs. Hodgson was forced to sell the store. In 1865 a teenage Frances and her family moved to live with Frances’ uncle William in Knoxville, Tennessee. It would be the first time she would visit America, but not the last.
Beginning of a Career
The family finances were still dire. While her older brothers worked, Frances contributed by writing and submitted stories to periodicals. The family was so poor, she had to pick and sell wild grapes just to get the paper and stamps to submit her first stories. Soon though, she was selling several stories a month, beginning her career as a writer. Frances married Dr. Swan Burnett in 1873 and had two sons, Lionel and Vivian, by him. Frances continued writing, authoring several stories for magazines and books. While her stories were mostly written for adults, in 1886 she published the children’s book "Little Lord Fauntleroy" basing the titular character off of her own son, Vivian. It was a wild success in both America and England.
Sara Crewe
In 1888, Frances began submitting a serialized tale to St. Nicholas Magazine entitled "Sara Crewe, or, What Happened At Miss Minchin’s." The magic of Sara’s imagination and the rags-to-riches story made the tale very popular. In 1902, the story was adapted into a stage version called "A Little Un-fairy Princess." In 1905, the same year she would gain American citizenship, Frances adapted and added details and more characters to create the book we know today as "A Little Princess."
Theme II:
Passion, but with Self-Control
Frances does not make Sara the perfect Victorian child, however. SAra has rage and anger within her, especially directed at Miss Minchin (kirkland, 1997). Sara would often defend herself verbally against the unfairness of Miss Minchin or the cruelty of Lavinia. Sara becomes more of a modern heroine by actively taking a stand for herself unlike some other passive characters of the time (Gruner, 1998).
Victorian Literature:
Romance & The Idealized Self
Given the historical period and Frances’ own circumstances, it is no wonder how the story of Sara Crewe came to be. While her own story and the world she saw around her played a big part of her writing, Frances’ style was typical of the Victorian literature at the time. Victorian novels are known for their idealized portraits of difficult lives where the virtuous come out on top and the villainous are knocked down a peg (Bixler, 1984). By portraying Sara as an ideal child, Sara serves in showing readers the ideal version of themselves and thus aspects of her morph into a type of role model for the reader (Gruner, 1998).
Theme I:
Kindness & Compassion
Theme III:
The Powerful Magic of Stories
Arguably, though, Sara’s greatest gift is the power of her imagination because her use of storytelling allows Sara as a character to grow (Gruner, 1998). Her ability to tell tales and create another world where hers is lacking keeps not only her, but Sara’s friends, going when all seems lost. Sara imagines herself as a hero trapped in the prison of the Bastille when she is sent to the attic with Becky and the rat Melchisedec as fellow prisoners. She transforms the attic into a lovely room with a grand feast for Becky and Ermengarde. And she tells tales to Lottie to keep her from crying loudly when she misses her mother. Sara's imagination is her power that allows her to endure and overcome hardship as well as explains the "magic" she sees around her (Bixler Koppes, 1978).Her ability to see the beauty in life and imagine that which is not there makes her a compelling character and her rags-to-riches tale that much more believable (Bixler, 1984). Since she sees herself as a princess, everyone else around her, readers included, see her as one as well.
A Cinderella Tale
The fairy tale Cinderella was widely popular for both children and adults in Victorian England at the time Frances wrote the tale (Gruner, 1998). She often used themes from Cinderella to write her romances, including in "Little Lord Fauntleroy," "The Making of the Marchioness" (her Cinderella tale for adults), and later in her best known and loved work "The Secret Garden". However, the rags-to-riches story is best represented in "A Little Princess" (Bixler Koppes, 1978; Bixler, 1984). Like the fairy tale, Sara is born wealthy and lives like a princess. Already having lost her mother at an early age and after being put into the care of another, lesser woman (the stepmother in Cinderella; Miss Minchin in Princess), she also loses her father and with him, her fortune. The faux matriarch and her jealous stepsisters (in this case, the students Lavinia and occasionally Jessie) treat her poorly, and put her into a type of “enchantment” that makes her appear less than she is given her high birth (Bixler Koppes, 1978). Through showing her strength of character, she is accepted for who she is by the prince (in this case, Mr. Carrisford) and disenchanted from her servant state to become the princess she was meant to be (Bixler, 1984). Sara’s happy ending is not getting married, but finding a family to love.
It is no wonder why A Little Princess has endured as a classic children’s tale for so long. While based in the well-loved Cinderella fairy tale that has itself lasted for centuries, Sara Crewe’s life is based on the times it was written in and Frances’ own childhood. Through wealth and loss, hard work and her own fairy tale ending in a fruitful career, "A Little Princess" is at once realistic and romantic (Bixler, 1984; gruner, 1998). Sara’s moral high ground and determination not to give up are universal and timeless traits we still seek in today’s society. And the beauty of great storytelling through powerful imagination is always seen as pure magic, especially in the eyes of children. Remembering her eight-year-old self, years later Pamela Maude described Frances and her storytelling in a letter: “When we stepped into the Fairy Tree and she read us Sara Crewe, she seemed to be completely forgetful of herself.” “She saw things in the same way as ourselves.” (Thwaite, 1974). Frances’ ability to tap into her own childhood and write stories for children as they saw the world was a great gift and one the world still cherishes today.
"A Little Princess" Book
"A Little Princess," the book version, is published.
"The Little Princess" Movie
The first movie version. Stars Mary Pickford.
"The Little Princess" Movie
Staring Shirley Temple
"A Little Princess" Movie
Staring Liesel Matthews. Directed by future Academy Award Winner Alfonso Cuaron.
"Sara Crewe" Published in St. Nicholas Magazine
The first version of "A Little Princess" was actually a serialized tale called "Sara Crewe, or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's" published in St. Nicholas' Magazine, a publication for American children, issues December 1887-February 1888.
"A Little Princess" Play
"A Little Princess," the play version, opens in London in the winter of 1902 as "A little un-fairy princess" and in New York in 1903 As "A Little Princess; Being the Whole Story of Sara Crewe, Now Told for the First Time."
"A Little Princess" Timeline
However, the Industrial Revolution also caused a boom in population, especially in London. With so many people and little work, wages stayed at a bare minimum for the working class and many families could not afford enough to eat (Hodgson Burnett, Coats, & Clarey, 2000). Frances experienced poverty like this after her father had died and the family store went under. Like Sara, Frances experienced a social change of going from the wealthy class to the poor working class. Also like Sara, she made up stories to keep up her spirits. Living next to the poorer factory workers as a child in Islington Square exposed Frances to the dialects of the lower classes (Carpenter & Shirley, 1990). You can see the effects of learning those patterns of speech with the servant girl Becky that adds to the authenticity of her stories. While in Islington Square, Frances would see whole families, children included, working. It was not uncommon for children as young as five and six years old to be working in factories (Hodgson Burnett, Coats, & Clarey, 2000). Begging on the street was necessary for those that could not work, as Anne does.
Historical Background I
Frances idealized many of her characters including Sara Crewe and the one that kicked off her career, the Little Lord Fauntleroy. These characters had a positive effect on the adults around them (Bixler Koppes, 1978; Bixler, 1984). For example, when Sara finds money on the street outside a bakery, she tries to return it to the baker woman thinking it may be hers. When it is not
However, she also has incredible self-control. she understands that not showing these people her passionate rage at their treatment of her or the sadness she has in losing her father and her former life gives her power over others and her situation (Bixler, 1984). Being a princess in Sara's mind does not mean being in control of other people and her circumstances, but being in control of herself (Kirkland, 1997).
Sentimental Canon
Stevenson (1997) attempts to suggest that love of the tale, not only from new children readers, but from those adults that remember and cherish the story, is what keeps a story going in the popular sentimental canon. When discussing "A Little Princess" with others, this author found several adults, mostly women, who eyes lit up with fond memories of the tale. The author herself, while not reading the text until recently, had many fond memories of the 1995 movie version. However, Stevenson (1997) maintains, likely correctly, that the version one fell in love with will be the version that will be passed on to other children. In the case of the later, the film version, and not the text itself, will be passed along, though the film version may help keep the original text version on library shelves for a while longer. the story is also based on another sentimental canonical tale, Cinderella, which may also be enough to sustain the text in popular canon.
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