Review: “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

One of the best known authors of children’s literature is Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Two of her main works featuring young female protagonists stand out before all others.

Sara Crewe is accustomed to luxury, but she is not a typically spoiled child.  Ever since her mother died, her hard-working father has dedicated his life to his daughter’s happiness and comfort, sending Sara presents constantly as tokens of his affection. However, his sudden death causes poverty and loneliness to take up residence in Sara’s life.  In her new school, Sara’s change in fortune results in ostracism.  Nevertheless, although Sara is degraded to living in an attic room and Cinderella-like status, she still manages to keep her dignity and make true friends.  She is rich in good manners, optimism, and compassion, making her exceptional “royalty” due to her actions in A Little Princess.

As realistic as Burnett’s story about this unfortunate orphan girl is, the words of A Little Princess combine to form a somewhat artificial depiction of human emotion.  Sara is indeed a rich girl who is forced to give up everything she has in exchange for nothing, but despite how the author tried to portray her character’s good nature, it all comes out sounding bland.  Moreover, the number of Sara’s acts of kindness is exaggerated to the point of irritation.  While Burnett accentuates Sara’s innocent understanding of noblesse oblige in the way she treats others, A Little Princess is not a genuine children’s novel because it fails to have realistic, human characters.  After all, A Little Princess is about a human girl, not a little angel.  There is no sincerity in the narrative, and the whole effect of the storyline is a snapshot of how Burnett tried to push her main character into being heroic during what little character development there was for Sara Crewe.  The rise and fall of financial and parental security is one part of A Little Princess, but the other appears to be the superficiality of Sara’s childhood and how she is saved from becoming Cinderella by an unexpected “deus ex machina” character.

Original review: Part 1: Which of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “girl books” is the best?,


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