A Little Princess

Despite the precious title and aura of icky Victoriana, Burnett’s heroine Sara Crewe is actually a feisty little creature with a bit of a temper, fire in her veins and a huge imagination. You can see Sara’s descendants everywhere- in Japanese anime, in musicals and in modern children’s literature- Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker, or Harry Potter, perhaps.

What sets Sara apart from her friends- little Lottie, scullery maid Becky and nice-but-dim Ermengarde- is her ability to put herself immediately into someone else’s shoes despite her originally privileged circumstances. 'I'm only a little girl like you, Becky,' she tells the maid, 'and it's just an accident that I'm not you and you're not me.' When she falls on hard times she is liberated by her imagination and generosity and even when suffering hugely, Sara remains an empath, her belief in herself and others so strong that she can almost ‘magic’ other worlds out of thin air.

When her life starts to improve and food and furniture arrives in her forlorn attic, her friends wholeheartedly believe that Sara is manifesting these changes- which, in a way, she is, because her generosity brings her to the attention of strangers who in turn empathise with her dire circumstances. In many ways it’s a brutal book as well as a pretty one; Sara’s father dies and she endures hunger, loneliness and humiliation but she never stops believing in the equality of everyone and the ability of stories to make life bearable, and her inner strength never fades. Deservedly a classic.

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Frances Hodgson Burnett
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