Reading Diary: Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
It began with earls: his grandpapa, whom he had never seen, was an earl; and his eldest uncle, if he had not been killed by a fall from his horse, would have been an earl, too, in time; and after his death, his other uncle would have been an earl, if he had not died suddenly, in Rome, of a fever. After that, his own papa, if he had lived, would have been an earl, but, since they all had died and only Cedric was left, it appeared that he was to be an earl after his grandpapa's death--and for the present he was Lord Fauntleroy.
He turned quite pale when he was first told of it.
"Oh! Dearest!" he said, "I should rather not be an earl. None of the boys are earls. Can't I not be one?"
But it seemed to be unavoidable . . .
I have a friend who guessed, way back in 1999, that a hot new children's author marketed as "J.K. Rowling" was a woman, simply because the character of Harry Potter was such a girl. =P That friend would have a field day with Cedric Errol.
Long before Frances Hodgson Burnett, who now has her own tag on Shredded Cheddar, wrote about a girl who pretended to be a princess, she had a story about a boy who discovered that he was a lord. Having finally read the earlier novel, I see that I missed nothing. Sara Crewe was a vast improvement on her creator's first effort--and not just because I am certain that if I met Cedric in real life, I'd be tempted to dropkick him.
Perhaps that's why I never got into his anime series, although I watched Sara's whenever I could catch it.
Yes, I wrote "anime":
Now meet Princess Sara and Cedie [sic], Ang Munting Prinsipe.
Seriously, Sara and Cedric are very much alike, particularly in their didactic purpose. The first key is their names: Sara means "princess," while Fauntleroy suggests the bountiful fountain of a king. Unlocking the lessons, you see that A Little Princess is, as I suggested in its Reading Diary entry, an instruction manual for any child who must deal with great adversity, while Little Lord Fauntleroy is the instruction manual for any child who must deal with great wealth. And that's half of the latter's problem, really.
It's all very fine to say that if you have money, you ought to use it to improve the lives of of everyone around you . . . but how many children do you know have filthy rich grandfathers willing to indulge their every whim? Cedric is a complete fantasy who has all the moral weight of Superman advising people to take up leaping from building to building, even if he leads by example. At least Sara, in her poverty, learns that smiles and kind words can be "largesse" that never run out. There's a life lesson for you.
Then we have the issue of whose fantasy Cedric is. I simply can't imagine boy readers caring much for a hero who wins everyone over with his charm at the first meeting and is rewarded with a castle, a pony, and legions of admirers who think he is beautiful. Now, I admit that I have not known many boys in my life--just Camera Man, Cue-card Boy, Fire Storm, Doctor Nemesis, Doctor Decimator, Lug Wrench, Scrap Metal, and Skid Breaker (Oh, wow. More than I would have said before I counted them again--LOL!)--but I would bet the rest of my Frances Hodgson Burnett reading project that the average boy wouldn't want to be Cedric as much as he would like to be a soldier . . . or a ninja . . . or a dinosaur . . . or even a zombie.
But in that case, why did Little Lord Fauntleroy become a huge international best-seller? . . . Probably the same reason Fauntleroy-inspired outfits became a huge international fashion trend.
A little disappointed that she never had a daughter, Burnett let her sons' hair grow long enough for her to curl it into ringlets, and dressed them in velvet suits with big lace collars, floppy bows, or cascading ruffles, all of which she made herself. When she wrote her first children's novel, she styled its little hero in the same way. And apparently, no one thought this was weird. In fact, other mothers were clearly charmed enough to follow suit. No word on whether the little boys appreciated being so "beautiful."
There's a sense in which Little Lord Fauntleroy is a girls' fantasy that just happens to have a male character in the lead role, but it is more accurate to say that it is a woman's fantasy about what an ideal little boy would be like. And I shouldn't have been so surprised that this paragon has been raised by a wise and loving single mother, and barely misses his father. I tend to think of the celebration of single motherhood as a shibboleth of our modern age, but apparently, it's a much older temptation--one known to any woman who has ever wished a little boy were more like a little girl.
Image Sources: a) Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett, b) Little Lord Fauntleroy anime DVD, c) A Little Princess anime DVD, d) Cedric Errol costumes, e) Harry Potter costumes