Riches to Rags

A Little Princess:
Being the whole story of Sara Crewe.
by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Vintage Classics, 2012 (1905).

Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they might do at night, an odd-looking girl sat in a cab with her father, and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.

Chapter 1, ‘Sara’

With this atmospheric opening paragraph Frances Hodgson Burnett set her take on the Cinderella story in  the grimy capital of England’s capital, far away from India climes where the ‘odd-looking’ girl had spent her first seven years.

True to the story’s fairytale roots the author will introduce figures equivalent to the wicked stepmother, the ugly sisters and the fairy godmother, though the last will morph into a faint echo of the male lead in Beauty and the Beast.

But A Little Princess isn’t just a rags-to-riches story – even if for a while it appears to be mostly riches-to-rags – for Burnett clothed the skeleton plot with gorgeous details and imbued the ancient archetype with psychological insights. In so doing she created a classic that has scarcely dated, despite being more than a century old.

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