A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Due to quite a heavy first year (2018) into my new Classics Club list, I decided to go easier on myself by reading some more of the children’s classics on my list, this year. After finishing Jo’s Boy by Louisa May Alcott, I immediately picked up A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I have been looking forward to reading after adoring Burnett’s most famous and a classic of children’s literature, The Secret Garden.

A Little Princess is an earlier novel of Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1905, which tells the tale of Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative, young lady, the daughter of Captain Crewe and his beautiful French wife. Sadly Sara never knew her mother, who died when she was born, so instead she has grown up with just her adored, indulgent father in India. However believing she will gain a better education, Captain Crewe brings his cherished daughter back to England and places her in the care of Miss Minchin in her recommended Select Seminary for Young Ladies.

Sara’s arrival in all her finery, with her exquisite doll, her French maid and request for a private room, causes quite a stir amongst the other pupils – causing much jealousy from the older girls. However as spoilt and pampered as she is, Sara is neither arrogant or snobbish, but rather is a kind, generous and unaffected little girl, who befriends the school ‘dunce’, Ermengarde; the younger, difficult Lottie and even the lowly scullery-maid, Becky. Meanwhile, Miss Minchin may openly fawn over Sara, but she secretly despises and resents Sara for her wealth, intelligence and spirited-nature.

After some time at the school, Miss Minchin throws an elaborate birthday party for the school’s star-pupil, Sara – in-the-midst of which the terrible news arrives that Sara’s beloved father has died of a fever, after a failed gold mine venture and subsequent bankruptcy. Sara is now a penniless orphan. Resentful of the little girl, the money she has spent on her and the lost prestige, Miss Minchin cruelly forces Sara to work as a servant in the school and live in a room in the attic, with no love, comfort or kindness.

And yet, through it all, Sara still shines. Using her wonderful imagination she conjures beautiful thoughts, stories and dreams that comfort and strengthen her in her daily toil. Neither do her good friends Ermengarde, Lottie and Becky desert her – sneaking away to share snatched moments with her. As time passes Sara becomes thinner, paler and her clothes become small and ragged, but still she carries herself in a dignified way and she shows kindness to those even less fortunate than her; which draws the attention of kindly neighbours and will lead to another change in fortune for the stalwart Sara.

Overall, I thought A Little Princess was an utterly charming tale of a little girl’s hope and courage through adversity, and I can see how it is one of the best-loved stories in children’s literature. I still think The Secret Garden is my favourite though and I definitely look forward to reading more by Burnett. Great read.

Have you read this? Or read anything else by Frances Hodgson Burnett?

This is book 11/50 for my Classics Club II.

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12 thoughts on “A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  1. I have lost count of how many times I read both this and The Secret Garden, but I reread each of them one more time in the past few years. I have never been able to decide which one I loved more. What a great author for children FHB was!

  2. I used to love The Secret Garden as a child but I’ve never read this one. It sounds lovely and it’s good to know it can be enjoyed by adults as well as children. 🙂

    1. Helen, while it didn’t topple The Secret Garden as my favourite – I mean what could topple the glorious, atmospheric setting of the hall, windswept moor and a secret garden – this was still an absolutely delightful read. 🙂

  3. I recently re-read both this and the Secret Garden a couple of years ago when I was going through a phase of re-discovering stories I loved as a child to see whether they stood up to adult examination. They are both lovely, but I think the Secret Garden has aged better, probably because of the difference between the two heroines. Admittedly, Mary was a somewhat hard-faced little girl, but she discovered the garden, and indeed her cousin, Colin through acts of rebellion against adult authority, and therefore drove her own story. Sarah is a much more passive figure, as the majority of decisions about her future are made by other people, and she pretty much just goes along with it, as she has no real choices of her own. She doesn’t really fit into the mold of what we would think of as a Strong Female Character, and her lack of moral corruption through suffering neglect and abuse seem highly unlikely. I still feel a reluctent admiration for her however, as the fact she survived perhaps means she is just strong in a different way.

    1. Alyson, how lovely that you have been re-discovering stories from your childhood! I definitely agree that The Secret Garden is my favourite of the two as well. For its glorious, atmospheric setting with the hall, windswept moor and a secret garden! But also because Mary was a snub-faced rather unlikeable little girl, who grew and bloomed with her garden. I also understand how you found it highly unlikely that Sara would not have any moral corruption or deterioration through her horrible treatment. Again I like to see realistically flawed characters like Mary in The Secret Garden, Edmund from the Narnia books and Amy in Little Women. 🙂

  4. Well done reading another from your classics list. It’s funny that even though I loved the Secret Garden I never checked out other books by the author. This does sound like a lovely story.
    Lynn 😀

    1. Thank you Lynn 🙂 I don’t think this beats The Secret Garden, but it is a super delightful book which I would recommend. Having some lovely children’s classics on my list has really helped me read more.

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