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 . . .
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