Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Little Princess by Frances H. Burnett

Some books stay with you your whole life. A Little Princess is one of them.

A little princess; being the whole story of Sara Crewe, now told for the first time

Thus it is not very surprising when I embarked on my latest quest to re-read the classics I'd loved as a child (and some which I'd hated, and others which I've not read before) I would go back to this book. But I will admit I was not quite sure about how good this book would be (part of the reason why I chose first to go back to Webster's Daddy Long-Legs, my review of which can be found here) because I remembered that the book had been a little slow in the beginning, and that Sara (the main character) was a bit of a Mary-Sue. In fact, I was quite sure that I would no longer like this book, and I was aghast at the thought of destroying a good childhood memory. However, yesterday I picked up the book.

I loved it.

The basic premise of this story is simple - when Sara first starts attending school, she quickly gains the reputation of being very rich and very eccentric. She is the richest pupil there (and certainly very spoiled by her father) and has got an imagination which is even richer - causing her to weave stories that enthrall those around her. In time, she even begins to pretend that she is a princess, because eventually she wants to be good, and kind, and generous as a princess should be. Most of the pupils in the school are quite enchanted by Sara (though, of course, some are jealous) and two in particular take a great fancy to her. Sara through her generosity and through her sweetness is able to make a lot of friends - with everyone from Lottie, who is four, to Becky, the unfortunate kitchen-maid.

However, when adversity strikes and Sara is left an orphan and penniless, a lot of things change. From being a show-pupil to a beggar, Sara must face the reality of a life without money and discover who her true friends in life really are. She must face the toughest adversity it is possible to face - not only physical (such as being forced to run errands and being deprived of meals) but also emotional (such as finding that many of her old friends no longer want anything to do with her). And she must discover many, many things about human nature - including whether or not it is possible to imagine in the midst of the worst of the troubles than life throws at us.

This book was not boring. Now that I'm older, I saw that there are many hidden themes in this book that I'd missed before - the theme of friendship, of love, of generosity in the worst of all circumstances (and not just by Sara), of imagination and of pretending, of beauty and home. This book is, in the end, a study in human nature. Sara remarks in the book that adversity can be the only test of character, and her adversity not only reveals the strength of her own character but also the characters of the people around her.

I did not find the writing slow or lagging. In fact, the first part which I found slow before was not half as slow this time, because I could appreciate much better the feelings of a father who is leaving his only child alone in a strange country, especially when she has been so close to him for so long. And I did not think Sara was a mary-sue. I know she should be - she's quite perfect, she is always nice, she is humble, she stands up against wrongs, and she believes all the good things that have happened to her are by 'accident' but Sara is just such a genuinely sweet character that you overlook that she is perfect. Also, she is not perfect all the time. There are times when she, too, is cross and angry and broken. She was very easy to sympathize with, even now that I'm 16 instead of 11 as I was when I was originally reading the book. (Incidentally, this is also Sara's age in the book). It is remarkable how Sara remains a princess through and through - through richness and poverty. The other characters are also very well written and compelling, from Lottie to the rat to the Indian servant.

Here's the true test of this book. When I first read the book at 11, I cried like a baby in the middle. I wondered if I would this time too.

This book can still make me cry, laugh, sigh and want to murder people. It still gives me hope. Sara still reminds me of myself - even now, at 16, the power to imagine has not (thank god!) disappeared.

Now I know the stuff classics are made of.

Final thoughts: This is a beautiful book for anyone who an imaginative young child (and maybe also for those less imaginative) and for anyone wanting to get back a piece of their childhood. Of course, like I noted when I wrote about Daddy Long-Legs, I believe kids nowadays might prefer the movie.movie.

A Little Princess

Other things: Wondering whether to go next with Pride and Prejudice (which I've read before) or with Frankenstein (which I've not). Of course, I might just forget both and go with A Secret Garden. Library tomorrow is going to be exciting.

This book review is part of my great classics read (and re-read) project.


  1. Hey Sakhi,

    I would wait for the review of Pride and Prejudice if you happen to read it. I've been thinking about it for sometime but never got a chance to.
    Happy reading :)

  2. Hey,
    One of the happy coincidences of life - I picked it up today at the library. I am about half way through it, except a review sometime this week.

  3. OMG! U finished another book n wrote a review too! :O I can't even watch movies as fast as u finish books :D. I'm so jealous of all the free time u get; miss my student days :P

    "...even now, at 16,the power to imagine has not (thank god!) disappeared...." Keep that up. Me 25 n still going strong wid this. Haha ;)

  4. i LOVE this book too!!!! n daddy long legs!!!!!!! :D and pride n prejudice :)

  5. @chaosisforever,
    Thanks so much for reading. Here's to imagination forever! :)
    Totally agree so far...any comments on frakenstein? (That's next on my list)


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