On the Cover: A Little Princess tells the story of young Sara Crewe, privileged daughter of a wealthy diamond merchant. All the other girls at Miss Minchin’s school treat Sara as if she truly were a princess. But when Captain Crewe’s fortune is sadly lost, Sara’s luck changes. Suddenly she is treated no better than a scullery maid. Her own fierce determination to maintain her dignity and remain a princess inside has intrigued and delighted readers for almost a hundred years.
Why I Chose It: I grew up with the 1995 film adaptation, and jumped at the chance to read the original story.
From the very beginning of the book I found Sara to be a very interesting main character. She is still very young, but is constantly described as older than her years, with a knowing look and a deep insight into what people are thinking and feeling. I found that although she was a strange main character – certainly different from anything I’ve ever read – I was drawn to her character somehow. I admired her resilience and strength, even in the darkest of times. I adored that she gave so much importance to her own imagination, and knew the wonderful things that an imagination could accomplish.
One of Sara’s strengths was how she treated those around her. She gathers the girls together and takes care of them in a mothering way, and I love the attention she gives to each of them. It strengthened Sara’s character and really spoke to who she was as a person, and who she would grow up to be. I really enjoyed that Burnett was able to convey that many girls lived in this boarding school, yet directed the reader’s attention to those who Sara was most attentive to.
The only thing that stopped me from loving this book was the narrating style. I think I was expecting the more flowing language that I associate with classics, yet Burnett’s style was much more frank. The sentences at times were short and blunt to the point the narration felt a little stilted. While I did appreciate that I could focus on the characters and not the language itself, I think I would have liked a bit more expressive writing, particularly when so much attention is given to the subject of imagination.
While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book more than the movie (I’ve always been in love with the movie – I think it’s beautiful) I do value reading the original work. I think it gives a large amount of insight into Sara’s character, and a very interesting look into historic London culture. I would recommend this for anyone interested in historical fiction and classic works.
Rating: 4 / 5
“When Sara had persuaded her to go downstairs again, and, after setting her in her way, had come back to her attic, she stood in the middle of it and looked about her. The enchantment of her imaginings for Lottie had died away. The bed was hard and covered with its dingy quilt. The whitewashed wall showed its broken patches, the floor was cold and bare, the grate was broken and rusty, and the battered footstool, tilted sideways on its injured leg, the only seat in the room. She sat down on it for a few minutes and let her head drop in her hands.” (p 125)
“[Sara] had gone about the house with an expression in her face which Miss Minchin could not understand and which was a source of great annoyance to her, as it seemed as if the child were mentally living a life which held her above the rest of the world. It was as if she scarcely heard the rude and acid things said to her; or, if she heard them, did not care for them at all.” (p 158)
“Miss Minchin was quite agitated. […] Could it be that she had made a mistake, after all, and that the neglected child had some powerful though eccentric friend in the background – perhaps from previously unknown relation, who had suddenly traced her whereabouts, and chose to provide for her in this mysterious and fantastical way? Relations were sometimes very odd – particularly rich old bachelor uncles, who did not care for having children near them. […] It would not be very pleasant if there were such a one, and he should learn all the truth about the thin, shabby clothes, the scant food, and the hard work.” (p 243)