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A Little Princess
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Fiction Club Archive > August 2014 - A Little Princess by Frances Hodson Burnett

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Jasmine | 160 comments For August, we will journeying back through a classic with Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic A Little Princess. We are excited to enjoy this classic together.
Per request, we will be bringing back the polls for the September read. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Little Princess, Sara Crewe.


Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
I have not read this for ages. Just for people's information, there is now a "sequel" (in parentheses because it is not by the original author) that is supposedly quite good, Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess.


Tricia Douglas (teachgiftedkids) | 312 comments I haven't read this book in a long time either. Looking forward to it.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
Ditto. Enjoyed this as a child, will start reading tomorrow or the next day. Unfortunately the copy my library has is a special large-format illustrated novel... ugly. I'm tempted to see if it's on gutenberg project even though I prefer paper to my Sony.


Tricia Douglas (teachgiftedkids) | 312 comments I found my copy!


SamZ (samwisezbrown) | 220 comments Cheryl (and anybody else), I saw unabridged copies of this one in the Target dollar spot about a week and a half ago! Worth a check.


message 7: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 02, 2014 05:28AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
If anyone is interested in reading some secondary material on this book, A Little Princess: Gender and Empire is quite good, better than Coles or Cliff's notes but not as rigidly academic as other similar books.

Twayne Publishers have a whole series of such books, including books about specific authors (I've found some great and readable books about Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder and James Herriot).


Jasmine | 160 comments It's also .99 cents in the Kindle Store on Amazon.


Jasmine | 160 comments I thought I had read this as a child but I don't think I did and I'm devastated that I missed out. I LOVED this book. I loved little Sara and her truly kind heart and her ability to pretend away all the bad. And I hated Miss Minchin and her horrifically bad temper and nature. It was so well written and a true gem.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
Tx Sam & Gundula for the tips! I checked; it is free on www.gutenberg.org


Steve Shilstone | 185 comments Sara is a quality human being, gifted with both imagination and empathy. Rich or poor, she is the same person. In the massively simplified and changed movie version with Shirley Temple, Shirley presented Sara beautifully.


message 12: by Carolien (last edited Aug 03, 2014 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carolien (carolien_s) I hauled my copy out this afternoon and look forward to rereading it. I haven't read it in years and only have a vague recollection of the story.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
I liked that Miss Minchin's bad temper is explained. Not justified; she's not a tragic villain or anything. But she's not just plain one-note sadistic or evil.

I have lots more comments but I'll have to wait until more of you read it. :)


message 14: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane | 69 comments Wonderful selection Jasmine. I absolutely loved this book. Sara will be with me for awhile. Sara' s determination to make the best of her situation really resonated with me.


Alfreda Morrissey | 6 comments I loved this book. I found Sarah to be inspirational. If a little girl can keep her manners and find beauty with her imagination during hard times, surely I can keep my temper with my children. It reminded me a bit of how Anne of green gables kept her positive attitude using imagination. I find books like that to be very uplifting.

I loved the way Sarah treated Becky as an equal. I was disappointed that they totally decorated Sarah's room but only gave Becky an extra bed, just because she was a servant. Plus I wished they had adopted both of them, rather than just taking Becky as a maid. As Sarah said, it is only an accident that she ended up as a servant and Sarah ended up rich. I guess the adults don't quite see this either. At least she would be treated better at the other house.

The movie did not do this book justice.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
I, too, wish that Becky had been adopted as a daughter. But, considering the day & age, *any* improvement in Becky's lot would be a big deal. There were millions of children even worse off, like little Anne of the bakery stoop, described in terms that made her seem savage and feral.

So, we know we have to read this as history. And, I suppose, that's how we have to present it to our children. We have to remind them that anyone can be as good, kind, dignified, brave, etc., as a princess, nowadays. Even *you,* we can say. ;)

At least, that's how I feel. I work hard to overcome my tendency to be just a little elitist, because I realize that when I read this book as a child I decided that I was born to be a princess. And I unconsciously decided that I could afford to be compassionate to those poor unfortunate people around me. That attitude doesn't go over so well in the US today.


message 17: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 16, 2014 10:10AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
I think if Becky had been adopted, it would have seemed rather anachronistic for both time and place (especially in England, that would likely not have been even possible, I mean, consider how even Sara herself was to an extent looked down upon by the sympathetic family next door when she was in poor circumstances). I think had "A Little Princess" been a novel set in the United States, while Becky being adopted as a daughter would still have been rare and unlikely, if that had happened, it would not have seemed as anachronistic and as improbable. I also sometimes think that the title "A Little Princess" is a bit misleading and actually rather a discredit to Sara because Sara always (even when she was of the elite and wealthy) acted kindly, compassionately and had a sense not only for justice but for basic human rights and human equality (it was those around her who both ungrudgingly and grudgingly labeled her a princess).

Apropos the "Little Princess" movies. I have not liked most of the recent and past adaptations all that much. I never liked the Shirely Temple version (I found it too different from the book and I did not find that Shirely Temple was a suitable Sara, just like I found her both annoying and unauthentic as Heidi). The most recent movie adaptation (where the father does not actually die) was also too different from the book and horribly americanised (having the book set in the USA and having Becky as an African American servant kind of destroys this novel as a British children's novel, and a part of the British school story tradition). There is one version that I really love and that stays very close to the book (I think it's a mini-series but as I am not at home at the moment but attending a conference in BC, I cannot post any further information, except that I loved this version, in my opinion, it is the ONLY version to consider if you want to view a movie version of this novel that stays close to the plot and themes of the novel itself).


message 18: by Anne (last edited Aug 10, 2014 06:28AM) (new)

Anne Nydam | 124 comments This has been one of my favorite books since childhood. From the time I first read it I identified with being a storyteller, and with using your imagination to put a positive spin on bad situations. I admired Sara's ability to control her own behavior when she couldn't control the behavior of others. I loved that the ending was happy and satisfying, without being so miraculous as to wipe out all that had happened in between. (Particularly regarding the father.) I agree with all that people have said about Becky - how now we'd love to see her treated equally, but how for the time lifting her to honored and well-treated handmaiden was no doubt a wonderfully fitting happy ending for her. I think the title is a fine one because the entire point of it is "princess is as princess does." Sara takes the word thrown at her sneeringly and makes it her own, turning the definition from one based on wealth and privilege to one based on graciousness and dignity - nobility of spirit rather than nobility of birth.

I read it aloud to my children a few years ago and they both enjoyed it, too, my son as well as my daughter, although it made a more lasting impression on my daughter. It certainly has its share of Victorian language and sentimentality, and I may have edited a few things very slightly as I read aloud, but I think it holds up very well and is quite accessible today.

I also read the sequel (by another author), which I thought was interesting. It tried to put a little more nuance into some of the characters and relationships from the original. On the whole, however, I thought it lacked real depth or emotional impact. Or maybe it's just that I disagreed with some of the author's interpretations of how certain characters would act? At any rate, I didn't think it was a horrible travesty, but didn't think it was that fabulous, either.

I'd love to get the information about Gundula's mini-series or movie version, when you get a chance, because I've not been impressed with the movie versions I've seen, either.


Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
For those interested, the mini-series (I think) that I consider the best of the movie/TV versions I have seen is the 1986 London Weekend Television production which stars Amelia Shankley as Sara Crewe. Although this production also does not totally follow the book, I would say that it is the closest and most faithful to the book. I got my copy on Amazon a few years ago, but I don't know if it's still available there as a new product.


message 20: by Gita (new)

Gita Reddy | 22 comments I read the book again to see why I did not like it very much as a child. I did not precisely dislike it, I even cried during some parts, but it was not among the books I picked up during vacations to reread. The Secret Garden by the same author belonged to that category.
I think the answer is because Sara is too good. She is patient, kind, and does not rebel. Whereas both Mary and Colin in The Secret Garden give vent to their feelings and throw tantrums. I think they seemed more natural to me.
Nothing that I'm saying takes away from the fact that The Little Princess is a very good book. It's just that Sara is more like a pattern of good behaviour a parent may ask a child to emulate.
Her character can be explained by the fact that she is motherless, spent the first seven years in a foreign land, and so learnt to be that way and that makes sense now but as a child I avoided her :)

Mods: I am not getting any mail alerts from the group.


message 21: by Anne (new)

Anne Nydam | 124 comments Thanks, Gundula. I'll definitely look for that.

Gita, there are definitely people who prefer characters who aren't "too good," and those who do like characters who "do the right thing." At the moment the preference that most books, movies, and TV shows are aimed at seems to be the "don't be too good" camp. Since I happen to like reading about characters who really try to be good people, I particularly appreciate Sara, and for just that reason never clicked as much with Mary and Colin! =) But just to be accurate about Sara, she does get angry and irritable and give in to despair at times, nor does she deny or repress these feelings. What she does do is hold herself to a high standard of behavior - just because you're upset doesn't mean you have to have a tantrum.


message 22: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 14, 2014 06:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
Gita wrote: "I read the book again to see why I did not like it very much as a child. I did not precisely dislike it, I even cried during some parts, but it was not among the books I picked up during vacations ..."

I think you make a good point about Sara being a bit too good. I've always liked this story, but I never loved it as much as I loved The Secret Garden or the Anne of Green Gables or the Emily of New Moon series (Lucy Maud Montgomery). In all of these novels, the main characters have faults, but Sara seemingly has little or no faults (except that she does at times appear almost patronising in her goodness and her feelings for "the populace" but I think that the author actually did not mean that to be a fault, and it is just our more modern sensibilities which make us consider this kind of "noblesse oblige" feeling to be not entirely praiseworthy).

One thing to consider is that A Little Princess was published quite a few years before The Secret Garden (it was published in 1905, I believe and I think The Secret Garden was not published until 1911, and the novella on which A Little Princess is based, Sara Crewe, Or What Happened At Miss Minchin's was actually published in 1888), so perhaps the author's attitude towards children matured and she realised that it would be better to have characters who are not perfect, but also have their share of faults. On the other hand, I also wonder if Hodgson Burnett might not have deliberately painted Sara as a faultless princess like character because she basically wanted to portray her as some kind of magical, fairy tale like entity (almost like a child-goddess of compassion, helpful, patient, accepting, but too good to be true, a bit like the character of Dickon is The Secret Garden who also seems too perfect, but on the other hand, he is a supporting character and not the main character).


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
I'm leaning more towards Anne's perspective, myself. "What she does do is hold herself to a high standard of behavior - just because you're upset doesn't mean you have to have a tantrum."

While neither I, nor Caddie Woodlawn, nor Irene from The Princess And The Goblin could be as good as Sara, we did try to be brave and strong. I even tried to be lady-(or princess-)like, just like Sara.

I did prefer A Secret Garden - but not because I liked Mary better. I just loved the garden, and the animals, and Colin's mother, and the 'miracle.' And of course Dickon, one of my first big crushes. ;)

So, I think it's a matter of taste, and taste can definitely be influenced by current social and cultural 'climate.'


Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
It's funny, when I first read both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess as a young teenager, I definitely liked the latter more than the former (I was rather annoyed at and by Mary and Colin). But upon rereading both stories as an adult, I have gained a lot of compassion and understanding for Mary and Colin (and basically think that they were made into who they were by gross parental neglect, something that Sara does not experience, even though her mother is dead, her father cares deeply for her and attends to both her physical and spiritual needs). And while I still love Sara Crewe as a character, rereading the book as an adult did kind of make me think that Sara is a bit too good to be true, although she is still a wonderfully engaging and winsome character.


Emily I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a character who develops and changes -- she is a much better person at the end of the book. Sara's circumstances change dramatically, but she is essentially the same person at the end as she was at the beginning.


message 26: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 14, 2014 04:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a character who develops and changes -- she is a mu..."

That's true, Sara never really changes (her circumstances change, but she is the same at the end as she was in the beginning). And come to think of it, the same holds true for Cedric in Little Lord Fauntleroy (his circumstances definitely change, but he does not, although some of the people around him, like his grandfather, do or are changed by him).


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
Ah, I haven't thought of Little Lord Fauntleroy for years. I did enjoy it as a child and should reread it. I recall knowing, even in my young innocence, that the book was mocked, and that especially Cedric's clothing and mannerisms were sneered upon. But I also remember thinking that the book was *not* that ridiculous. However, I remember nothing else, so I'm off to add it to my to-read lists.


message 28: by Gita (new)

Gita Reddy | 22 comments Emily wrote: "I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a character who develops and changes -- she is a mu..."
A very good point. Mary changes and so does Colin. If I remember correctly (read it four decades ago :) ), Mary is placed in difficult circumstances. Her parents did not care for her, an unknown relative receives her into his home but shuns her and she spends her days in near solitude. So the author already shows us why Mary behaves the way she does. You understand her tantrums. but not so Colin's. I liked Mary but I was impatient with Colin until I knew why he was so aggravating. I think Frances used a good device, by explaining the workings of one character and withholding the other. This way a conflict is created and we take sides. The Secret Garden is interesting at many levels, and is just wonderful. Has the group discussed it already?

This is my understanding of the characters:
Sara was loved from birth. Her father showered her with love and care. That made her secure, and strong in adversity. Mary and Colin were neglected, ignored. So the tantrums. They were angry children. Cedric, again a loved child, was sunny.

The difference between Sara and Cedric. Cedric is open but Sara is very controlled. She would have got that by trying to keep the father she loved so much, happy. She would have learned to cloak her emotions.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
Good point about the way Burnett made us feel differently about Mary vs. Colin - I never thought of that authorial strategy before; thank you.

Also, I did always wonder why Sara wasn't a spoiled brat with such an indulgent father, but your suggestion that she felt the responsibility to look out for her father's happiness makes perfect sense. Again, your insight helps me appreciate the stories even more.


Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
Cheryl in CC NV wrote: "Good point about the way Burnett made us feel differently about Mary vs. Colin - I never thought of that authorial strategy before; thank you.

Also, I did always wonder why Sara wasn't a spoiled b..."


I think many children who are spoiled brats often seem to get all the material wealth and objects they want (like toys, dolls and the like), but are actually being emotionally and spiritually neglected by their parents or caregivers. Colin is a prime example of this, as he was able to always get the material wealth he desired (or that those around him felt he desired) but was unable to get what he wanted and needed most, his father's love and acceptance (and Mary's case was similar to that as well). Sara's father though, while indulgent, actually truly loved his daughter and spent time, quality time with his daughter (and did not basically use his wealth and toys to buy his daughter's affection or use material wealth as a replacement for a parent's love). This can be seen in other more recent children's novels as well. I don't know who of you have read Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins , but Maggy (who is adopted by the Austins) is in a similar boat as Colin (and to a point Mary), a young girl, who has lots of toys and material advantages but has never been shown any real love and affection by her family (and has turned into a spoiled brat, but one who is spoiled not only through over-indulgence but also and maybe even mostly because she has been emotionally neglected all of her life).


message 31: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 16, 2014 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
Gita wrote: "Emily wrote: "I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a character who develops and changes ..."

Gita, considering that Colin has been abandoned by his father and that his father blames him for the death of his mother (and that Colin is aware of this), I can certainly understand his tantrums. And considering that he has basically been kept as an invalid, treated as an invalid and assumed by everyone, including himself, to be or to become a hunchback (even though his back is actually straight), I can also understand his tantrums (he has been through a combination of neglect, coddling and unproven medical theories and fears turned into a massive hypochondriac and turned into someone both physically and mentally weak and unstable). He and Mary are rather alike, although Mary has more spunk and is able to get healthier faster (but that is also likely because she does not have doctors fussing over her and has Martha Sowerby, Dickon Spowerby, Ben Weatherstaff and of course the robin to help her, but to help her in an unobtrusive way).


message 32: by Gita (new)

Gita Reddy | 22 comments Cheryl in CC NV wrote: "Good point about the way Burnett made us feel differently about Mary vs. Colin - I never thought of that authorial strategy before; thank you.

Also, I did always wonder why Sara wasn't a spoiled b..."


Discussing helps; I hadn't thought about the characters before :)


message 33: by Gita (new)

Gita Reddy | 22 comments Gundula wrote: "Gita wrote: "Emily wrote: "I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a character who develops..."
Colin is definitely at a greater disadvantage. Burnett has portrayed him well. Though Colin believes himself an invalid and a cripple, he would have the natural energy of a child without the usual outlets. Add to this the emotional neglect and you have the recipe of a royal tantrum.
Like I mentioned in my earlier post, the Secret Garden
is truly wonderful; the garden and the robin and everything. I cannot recollect any other book that has so many dimensions.


Manybooks | 7659 comments Mod
Gita wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Gita wrote: "Emily wrote: "I think The Secret Garden is the better book and that a big part of the reason why is not so much that Mary is a flawed character, as that she is a charac..."

Exactly, especially a book for children!!


Carolien (carolien_s) I thoroughly enjoyed rereading this book. I pulled my own copy from the shelf which brought back wonderful memories as well. I received it as a present from my English teacher when I was 11 and it was the first proper "classic" English book that I read. I had always loved reading, but battled with English as a second language. This teacher introduced me to Enid Blyton and I finally started enjoying English books. I owe her a massive debt of gratitude.


Tricia Douglas (teachgiftedkids) | 312 comments It's taken a long time for me to finally read this wonderful book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Originally written in 1905 the story takes the reader back to a Dickens-like setting with characters both jealous and selfish like Miss Minchin who are then compared with Sara, a child full of kindness and compassion to all. The writing and vocabulary are a little old-fashioned, but it adds to the quaintness of the storyline. This is a true fairy tale and with the added luxury of comparing it to the movies which were made, readers of this book can develop excellent pictures in their own minds. What fun it is to pretend especially since it serves a purpose for Sara but, also, helps all of us remember the times we played this game ourselves. This book would be a great read-aloud for children of all ages. It's a definite classic of children's literature.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6440 comments Mod
How wonderful, Carolien, that you had such a good teacher, and were prompted to remember her.

Tricia, do I understand that this is your first read? I'm thrilled to see that it's a good enough book to appeal to an adult nowadays.


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