08 April 2010


Let's Try This Again, Shall We?
(A weekly meme hosted on The Introverted Reader)

Read the rest of this week's Character Connection round up!

This time around, I am ready to follow the rules and pick only one character to feature this week.

She was actually my first choice when I heard about these types of features on readers' blogs, but I hadn't picked up her book in ages and didn't know whether I'd be able to her any justice.

Then, just this afternoon, I grabbed my old, yellowing copy from the "Classics" section of my library, read a few random lines . . . and everything came rushing back to me. I was so ready to write this . . .

Sarah Crewe
A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

"Whatever comes," she said to herself, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it . . ."

This was not a new thought, but quite an old one by this time. It had consoled her through many a bitter day, and she had gone about the house with an expression on her face which Miss Minchin could not understand and which was a source of annoyance to her, as if it seemed as if the child were mentally living a life which held her above the rest of the world . . .

A Little Princess generally gets two kinds of covers: the "rags" covers and the "riches" covers. The latter clearly play up the "princess" imagery, while the former get more mileage from the irony. Yet the real irony is that the externals don't matter, and never have, when it comes to Sara Crewe. She is a character who lives almost entirely in her head--which is really not such a bad setting. (And how many characters do you know who are both a character and a setting?)

So it doesn't matter whether she is in blazing hot India or in foggy England, in the prettiest parlour bedroom of her boarding school or in one of its dingy attic bedrooms: the landscape in her mind doesn't change.

As the scullery maid Becky says to her after Sara's fall from riches--a reversal ironically underlined by her ascent to the attics: "Whats'ever 'appens to you--whats'ever--you'd be a princess all the same--an' nothin' couldn't make you nothin' different."

It's a strange kind of coronation (if one can call it that when there is no symbolic crown), but it confirms our little princess in her chosen state--and she is indeed more of a princess in rags than she ever was in her finery.

But the really interesting thing about Sara, I think, is that she doesn't change. There is plot development here, but no character development (except, interestingly enough, where the minor characters are concerned . . . because they get better for having known the saintly Sara). There are small changes in awareness and understanding, but Sara is basically the same character from beginning to end. I guess she was already so perfect that there was nothing more that Burnett could do with her. Which is why Sara is such an interesting foil to another Burnett character, Mary Lennox of A Secret Garden, who does change. Sara is more like another Secret Garden character, Dickon, who is more of a personification of the spirit of the Moors than a real boy.

This certainly doesn't mean that she's a bad character. I recall that one of my best English professors once said the same thing about Jane Eyre--and Jane is up there with the greats. But I do find this aspect of Sara very interesting, because such a "static" character shouldn't be able to carry a whole novel the way she (or Jane) does. And yet she works as a lead character; she is very beautifully written indeed.

Image Source: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Debbie said...

I love this book! Did you ever see the Shirley Temple movie they made from it?

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Debbie! =) Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Yes, I have seen the Shirley Temple adaptation--but that must have been decades ago! I remember the Liesel Matthews movie better. I can't say I've been impressed with any movie attempt I've seen, though!

Becky said...

Wow, that is a really reflective post. Interesting that such a great character can lack growth and devlopment. Food for thought.

r said...

For me, it's the Liesel Matthews version that fades into the mists of memory.

Whitney said...

This is such a lovely, thoughtful post. I've always been partial to the Shirley Temple version, she's just too cute!

Jennifer G. said...

I haven't read any Hodgson books. Or seen any movies. Terrible, I know! I do have Secret Garden here patiently waiting its turn.

I really enjoyed your post. I hadn't thought about Jane in that way, but you're right. I guess the development comes from watching Mr. Rochester grow to deserve her.

Enbrethiliel said...


Becky: Thanks! I'm glad you liked the post. =)

R: What I remember most was thinking that I never would have cast Matthews. =P

Whitney: Thank you! I'm afraid that I don't really have a favourite Sara. I love my idea of the character so much that nobody who has been cast to play her has ever hit the mark for me.

Jennifer: I suppose it's all right as long as the other characters develop, as Mr. Rochester does--and even Aunt Reed! But I think one point of contrast between Jane Eyre and A Little Princess is that the other leading character is just as unchanging as Sara. All the drama comes from their "irresistible force" vs. "immovable object" tension; neither of them gives in, and yet the story is perfectly resolved.

Chris and Jess said...

This was one of my favorite books as a child, I haven't seen the Shirley Temple version but I was fond of the BBC version which came out when I was young.

A great article.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Chris! Or is it Jess? ;-)

Marian said...

Sara is one of my favorite characters, partly because of her strong imaginative character and partly because she was thin and dark-haired and enjoyed books. I identified so much with that when I was a kid.

I wrote a bit about the movies on my blog as well.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for stopping by, Marian! I also identified with Sara very much, for those same reasons, when I was her age. =)