A Little Princess

A Little Princess is a children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published as a book in 1905. It is an expanded version of the short story "Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's", which was serialized in St. Nicholas Magazine from December 1887, and published in book form in 1888. According to Burnett, after she composed the 1902 play A Little Un-fairy Princess based on that story, her publisher asked that she expand the story as a novel with "the things and people that had been left out before". The novel was published by Charles Scribner's Sons (also publisher of St. Nicholas) with illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts and the full title A Little Princess: Being the Whole Story of Sara Crewe Now Being Told for the First Time.

Based on a 2007 online poll, the U.S. National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top Books for Children". In 2012 it was ranked number 56 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily U.S. audience. It was the second of two Burnett novels among the Top 100, with The Secret Garden number 15.

Plot

"She slowly advanced into the parlor, clutching her doll": Illustration from Sara Crewe; or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's (1888)

Captain Crewe, a wealthy English widower, has been raising his only child, Sara, in India where he is stationed with the British Army. Because the Indian climate is considered too harsh for children, British families living there traditionally send their children to boarding school back home in England. The captain enrolls his young daughter at Miss Minchin's boarding school for girls in London, and dotes on his daughter so much that he orders and pays the headmistress for special treatment and exceptional luxuries for Sara, such as a private room for her with a personal maid and a separate sitting room (see Parlour boarder), along with Sara's own private carriage and a pony. Miss Minchin openly fawns over Sara for her money, but secretly and jealously despises her for her wealth.

Despite her privilege, Sara is neither arrogant nor snobbish, but rather kind, generous and clever. She extends her friendship to Ermengarde, the school dunce; to Lottie, a four-year-old student given to tantrums; and to Becky, the lowly, stunted fourteen-year-old scullery maid. When Sara acquires the epithet “Princess,” she embraces its favorable elements in her natural goodheartedness.

After some time, Sara's birthday is celebrated at Miss Minchin's with a lavish party, attended by all her friends and classmates. Just as it ends, Miss Minchin learns of Captain Crewe's unfortunate demise. Furthermore, prior to his death, the previously wealthy captain had lost his entire fortune; a friend had persuaded him to cash in his investments and deposit the proceeds to develop a network of diamond mines. The scheme fails, and Sara is left an orphan and a pauper, with no other family and nowhere to go. Miss Minchin is left with a sizable unpaid bill for Sara's school fees and luxuries, including her birthday party. Infuriated and pitiless, she takes away all of Sara's possessions (except for some old frocks and one doll), makes her live in a cold and poorly furnished attic, and forces her to earn her keep by working as an errand girl. She forces Sara to wear frocks much too short for her, with her thin legs peeking out of the brief skirts.

For the next several years, Sara is abused by Miss Minchin and the other servants, except for Becky. Miss Minchin's kind-hearted sister, Amelia, deplores the way that Sara is treated, but is too weak-willed to speak up about it. Sara is starved, worked for long hours, sent out in all weathers, poorly dressed in outgrown and worn-out clothes, and deprived of warmth or a comfortable bed in the attic. Despite her hardships, Sara is consoled by her friends and uses her imagination to cope, pretending she is a prisoner in the Bastille or a princess disguised as a servant. Sara also continues to be kind and polite to everyone, including those who treat her badly. One day, she finds a coin in the street and uses it to buy buns at a bakery, but despite being very hungry, she gives most of the buns away to a beggar girl dressed in rags who is hungrier than herself. The bakery shop owner sees this and wants to reward Sara, but she has disappeared, so the shop owner instead gives the beggar girl bread and warm shelter for Sara's sake.

"He was waiting for his master to come out to the carriage, and Sara stopped and spoke a few words to him": Illustration from Sara Crewe; or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's (1888)

Meanwhile, Mr. Carrisford and his Indian assistant Ram Dass have moved into the house next door to Miss Minchin's school. Carrisford had been Captain Crewe's friend and partner in the diamond mines. After the diamond mine venture failed, both Crewe and Carrisford became very ill, and Carrisford in his delirium abandoned his friend Crewe, who died of his "brain fever". As it turned out, the diamond mines did not fail, but instead were a great success, making Carrisford extremely rich. Although Carrisford survived, he suffers from several ailments and is guilt-ridden over abandoning his friend. He is determined to find Crewe's daughter and heir, although he does not know where she is and thinks she is attending school in France.

Ram Dass befriends Sara when his pet monkey escapes into Sara's adjoining attic. After climbing over the roof to Sara's room to get the monkey, Ram Dass tells Carrisford about Sara's poor living conditions. As a pleasant distraction, Carrisford and Ram Dass buy warm blankets, comfortable furniture, food, and other gifts, and secretly leave them in Sara's room when she is asleep or out. Sara's spirits and health improve due to the gifts she receives from her mysterious benefactor, whose identity she does not know; nor are Ram Dass and Carrisford aware that Sara is Crewe's lost daughter. When Carrisford anonymously sends Sara a package of new, well-made, and expensive clothing in her proper size, Miss Minchin becomes alarmed, thinking Sara might have a wealthy relative secretly looking out for her, and begins to treat Sara better and allows her to attend classes rather than doing menial work.

One night, the monkey again runs away to Sara's room, and Sara visits Carrisford's house the next morning to return him. When Sara casually mentions that she was born in India, Carrisford and his solicitor question her and discover that she is Captain Crewe's daughter, for whom they have been searching for years. Sara also learns that Carrisford was her father's friend and her own anonymous benefactor, and that the diamond mines have produced great riches, of which she will now own her late father's share. When Miss Minchin angrily appears to collect Sara, she is informed that Sara will be living with Carrisford and her entire fortune has been restored and greatly increased. Upon finding this out, Miss Minchin unsuccessfully tries to persuade Sara into returning to her school as a star pupil, and then threatens to keep her from ever seeing her school friends again, but Carrisford and his solicitor tell Miss Minchin that Sara will see anyone she wishes to see and that her friends' parents are not likely to refuse invitations from an heiress to diamond mines. Miss Minchin goes home, where she is surprised when Amelia finally stands up to her. Amelia has a nervous breakdown afterwards, but she is on the road to gaining more respect.

Sara invites Becky to live with her and be her personal maid, in much better living conditions than at Miss Minchin's. Carrisford becomes a friend to Sara and quickly regains his health. Finally, Sara — accompanied by Becky — pays a visit to the bakery where she bought the buns, making a deal with the owner to cover the bills for bread for any hungry child. They find that the beggar girl who was saved from starvation by Sara's selfless act is now the bakery owner's assistant, with good food, clothing, shelter, and steady employment.

Source material

The novella appears to have been inspired in part by Charlotte Brontë's unfinished novel Emma, the first two chapters of which were published in Cornhill Magazine in 1860, featuring a rich heiress with a mysterious past who is apparently abandoned at a boarding school.

Play

Millie James as Sara in the Broadway production of Burnett's play, The Little Princess (1903)

After writing Sara Crewe, Burnett returned to the material in 1902, penning the three-act stage play A Little Un-fairy Princess, which ran in London over the autumn of that year. Around the time it transferred to New York City at the start of 1903 the title was shortened to A Little Princess. (It was A Little Princess in London, but The Little Princess in New York.)

Burnett said that after the production of the play on Broadway, her publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons, asked her to expand the story into a full-length novel and "put into it all the things and people that had been left out before." The book was illustrated by Ethel Franklin Betts and published in 1905 under the full title A Little Princess: Being the Whole Story of Sara Crewe Now Being Told for the First Time.

Adaptations

Film

  • 1917 version: Mary Pickford as Sara and Katherine Griffith as Miss Minchin.
  • 1939 version: Shirley Temple as Sara and Mary Nash as Miss Minchin. This Technicolor adaptation notably differs from the original, in that Sara's father is wounded and missing in action in wartime, and later is reunited with his daughter. Miss Minchin's younger sister Miss Amelia is replaced with "Mr Bertie", Miss Minchin's brother, a former music hall performer, who sings and dances with Temple. A substantial portion of the story is given over to Sara's abetting of an illicit romance between an under-teacher and the school's riding master, dramatized in an elaborate fairy-tale dream sequence.
  • 1995 Filipino version: entitled Sarah... Ang Munting Prinsesa (lit. "Sarah, the Little Princess") which starred Camille Prats as Sarah and Jean Garcia as Miss Minchin. It was inspired by the entry of the anime version Princess Sarah.
  • 1995 version: Liesel Matthews as Sara and Eleanor Bron as Miss Minchin, this adaptation notably differs from the original and more closely resembles the 1939 version, in that Sara's father is wounded and missing in action in wartime, and later is reunited with his daughter. Another difference is that it takes place in New York City during World War I instead of London during the Boer War, and the character of Becky, canonically Cockney, is recast as African-American. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
  • 1996 version: An animated film produced by Blye Migicovsky and directed by Laura Shephard. As in the 1995 film, Sara's father is later found alive, and Becky is black. The voice cast includes Melissa Bathory, Lawrence Bayne, Desmond Ellis, Nonnie Griffin, Marieve Herington, Sarena Paton, Katherine Shekter, and Colette Stevenson.
  • 1997 Russian film A Little Princess: Anastasiya Meskova as Sara and Alla Demidova as Miss Minchin.

Television

Musicals

Due in part to the novel's public domain status, several musical versions of A Little Princess have emerged in recent years, including:

  • A Little Princess, Music and Lyrics by Eric Rockwell and Margaret Rose, Book by William J. Brooke. World premiere at the Sacramento Theater Company, April 2013.
  • A Little Princess, Princess Musicals - Book and Lyrics by Michael Hjort, Music by Camille Curtis.
  • Sara Crewe, premiered May 2007 at Needham (Boston, MA) Community Theater, first full production November 2007 at the Blackwell Playhouse, Marietta, Georgia; music, lyrics, and book by Miriam Raiken-Kolb and Elizabeth Ellor
  • Sara Crewe: A Little Princess, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston, 2006; music and libretto by Susan Kosoff and Jane Staab
  • A Little Princess, TheatreWorks, Palo Alto, California, premiered 2004; music by Andrew Lippa; book by Brian Crawley; directed by Susan H. Schulman
  • A Little Princess, Wings Theatre, (Off-Broadway, New York, 2003) Book and Direction by Robert Sickinger; music and lyrics by Mel Atkey, musical director/arranger/pianist Mary Ann Ivan
  • A Little Princess, Children's Musical Theater San Jose, May 2002. Book and lyrics by Tegan McLane, music by Richard Link
  • A Little Princess, Bodens Youth Theatre, London, premiering February 2012; music and lyrics by Marc Folan, book by Adam Boden
    • Off-Broadway U.S. Premiere, The Hudson Guild Theater, NYC, May 2014

Some of these productions have made significant changes to the book, story and characters, most notably the Sickinger/Atkey version, which moves the action to Civil War-era America.

In addition, Princesses, a 2004 musical currently in development for Broadway, features students at a boarding school presenting a production of A Little Princess. Music and book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner; lyrics and direction by David Zippel.

Other theatre

  • A theatre adaptation by Belt Up Theatre was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012 as 'Belt Up Theatre's A Little Princess'.
  • An adaptation of the book, entitled Sara Crewe: The Little Princess was written by Steve Hays and was featured at CityStage in Springfield MA, performing six shows and starred Carlie Daggett in The title role.
  • A theatre adaptation was written by Lauren Nichols and performed by all for One productions, inc., with original music composed by a young girl, Torilinn Cwanek, at the Allen County Public Library Auditorium in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in February 2013, performing six shows.
  • The London Children's Ballet performed ballet adaptions in 1995 (Choreographer: Harold King), 2004 (Choreographer: Vanessa Fenton) and 2012 (Choreographer: Samantha Raine).
  • Hess Oster's adaptation for youth performers (StagePlays, 2013) has been performed by STARS Drama (2013), Actor's Youth Theatre (2013), Bordentown Theatre (2014), Fruits of the Spirit Academy (2015), Mosaic Children's Theatre (2015), and Shine Performing Arts (2017).

Video games

Audiobooks

  • A Little Princess unabridged audiobook narrated by Magda Allani (Slow Burn Publications, 2016)ISBN 978-1-908671-10-3. This edition is read in the authentic English accent that would have been British-born Frances Hodgson Burnett's own.

Related books

In 1995, Apple published a series of three books written by Gabrielle Charbonnet. "The Princess Trilogy" was an updated version of the classic, with the title character named Molly, rather than Sara. Molly Stewart's father was a famous film director who left his daughter in a posh upscale boarding school. There were three books in the series, which ended in a similar way as the original: Molly's Heart, The Room on the Attic, and Home at Last.

A sequel by Hilary McKay was published by Hodder Children's Books in September 2009: Wishing For Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess. It tells the story of what happened to the rest of the boarding school girls after Sara and Becky left ("life must go on at Miss Minchin's").

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article "A Little Princess", released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.