A Little Princess : Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess; being the whole story of Sara Crewe now told for the first timeA Little Princess; being the whole story of Sara Crewe now told for the first time by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to begin with Sara Crewe and her magical story of hope and dreams and imagination? Where to begin with this story full of richness, of sweetness, of grace, of aching tears that can’t help be shed by the reader?

Perhaps at the start, perhaps there, and then we shall have some sort of structure to this review other than my incoherent love for this book and as you may know, incoherent love is all very well and good but it is not structure nor is it perhaps intelligible at times.

Sara Crewe has come to England with her beloved father, all the way from India. She is to be sent to school and her father has chosen Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies to serve as her home for the next few years. Just everything about the name of the school makes me tingle with satisfaction. The preciseness of that phrase. The tightness of it. The way it makes your mouth purse, just a little, when you say it loud. Perfection.

Sara is left at school and her father goes back to India. Initially everything goes splendidly for Sara. She lives the life of a Princess, wrapped in money and expensive things, but this all changes when something happens – something awful and almost unbelievable to dear Sara. (Dear Sara, how naturally I write that, god I want to adopt everyone in this book and hug them tight, but maybe not Lavinia). Sara is thrown into distinctly different circumstances than she began her life at school with and who knows what will happen to her?

One central motif in this book is the idea of imagination and of dreams and of the importance of this dreaming. Throughout the book, Sara’s ability to dream and tell stories is emphasised and beloved by the vast majority of her fellow pupils. One of her favourite pretends is to be a Princess and, as Sara herself puts it:

“”It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend that I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.””

What is more perfect than that little painful quote of hers? You can almost see her jutting her chin out and flushing a little bit as she says it. You can taste the quiet fury in her words and the way that she’s holding everything inside of her and part of that everything is something so precious that she can scarcely even begin to talk about it.

It’s important to acknowledge in a review of this book that there are elements which have dated and are a little uncomfortable when read with a modern mindset. It’s also equally important to acknowledge that this book was written in a very different time and societal context and as such, those issues are very much contextually produced.

Also it’s equally important to acknowledge how beautiful this book is. It is edible. It is full of hope and sadness and joy and grief and it’s all written in such an accessible and graceful way that reading this is like being wrapped in a blanket of words. It is lovely. There are many, many classic children’s books out there which are rightfully still being read and savoured but not many, I think, which can pull a story like this out of the bag and make it accessible and believable and so ferociously lovely that the ending of it makes you cry and smile and sigh with contentment all at the same time. The Railway Children is one. The Secret Garden is another. A Little Princess is well up there with them.

Do note that there are a couple of different versions out there of this, due to the nature of it being originally serialised in a newspaper and then put together as a collected edition. The version I read was via Project Gutenberg and is available here. Go and have a look and swoon at that front cover.

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4 thoughts on “A Little Princess : Frances Hodgson Burnett

  1. I think you’ve hit on the thing that I really loved about Sara and about this book generally with that quote from her about pretending to be a princess so she can try and behave like one. I hated all princess stories when I was little – any Disney film with the traditional princess in was treated with scorn and contempt by my younger self. And yet I loved this book and I loved Sara…because for her, being a princess wasn’t necessarily about wearing fancy dresses and being treated like royalty, it was about being dignified, compassionate and quietly courageous, which seemed to me (and still does) something very much worth aiming for.

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