Flashback Friday: “A Little Princess”

Maya Reddy ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

This week’s Flashback Friday is on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s well-loved children’s book, A Little Princess. At its core this novel is about the goodness of people and the need to be a good person even when it’s hard to do. A Little Princess embraces this idea in the protagonist, Sarah’s firm belief that everybody is a princess as long as they act like it. For Sarah, acting like a princess means being mindful of those around you and willing to think beyond oneself.

In a less abstract summation of this novel, Sarah is a little girl who is very spoiled but very nice. However her dad unexpectedly dies, loses their great fortune, and suddenly it’s a lot harder for her to be as good-natured as she is known for by the girls at her boarding school— especially since she suddenly becomes forced to be a servant even though she was once treated like a princess. But as Sarah firmly believes, being a princess is not something so shallow as material wealth.

A Little Princess Cover. Source: Simon & Schuster
A Little Princess Cover. Source: Simon & Schuster

When thinking about A Little Princess many may find themselves flashing back to its 1995 adaptation directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This Flashback Friday is not about that well-loved movie. Well, not completely, at least. Perhaps this is coming from a biased point of view, but while this movie has its merits it doesn’t hold a candle to the book— which is why if one has only seen the movie— they should definitely look into reading the book.

Being opposed to the movie adaptation of a beloved novel is not a new response to movie adaptations, but the thing about A Little Princess is that no other version of this book has is the treatment of its audience. This was a children’s book that didn’t talk down to its readers. Maybe it was a sign of the times— older children’s books definitely didn’t use the same language as today’s children’s books. But the thematic ideas of this story were so refreshingly dark and realistic for children, when more contemporary and therefore condescending books were being shoved at young readers.

Most notably, the movie adaptation of A Little Princess physically got rid of the less savory aspects of the novel, like Sarah’s dad’s death or the physical violence Sarah endured from her mean headmistress, Miss Minchin. These aspects of the book offered a depth to A Little Princess that went beyond simply heartwarming. Not to say that with the darkness the book wasn’t heartwarming, because it was still very sentimental and sweet. However in this case, those sentimental moments were made all the more sweet when the hardships Sarah faced weren’t censored.

This touching novel managed to maintain the whimsy and adventurous spirit that would catch a young readers attention, while bringing some scary ideas of what growing up would be like. With its focus on class and other real-life social issues, A Little Princess somehow managed to showcase some of the dark and grittiness of life while still being a children’s book— however one would define a “children’s book” to be.


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