A Little Princess
First edition cover
|Author||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
A Little Princess is a 1905 children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a revised and expanded version of Burnett's 1888 serialised novel entitled Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's Boarding School, which was published in St. Nicholas Magazine. According to Burnett, she had been composing a play based on the story when she found out a lot of characters she had missed. The publisher asked her to publish a new, revised story of the novella, producing the novel.
Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." It was one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.
A Little Princess opens with seven-year-old Sara Crewe and her father, Captain Crewe, arriving at Miss Minchin's boarding school for girls in London. Captain Crewe is very wealthy and states that Sara is destined for a lavish, comfortable future. Despite being pampered all her life in India, Sara herself is very intelligent, polite, and creative. Headmistress Miss Minchin is secretly jealous and dislikes Sara for her cleverness, but openly praises and flatters her because of her father's wealth. Before departing for India, Captain Crewe purchases Sara an elegant wardrobe and a doll whom Sara adores and names "Emily." Sara's friendliness and love for pretending and storytelling makes her popular with most of the school's students. They soon begin regarding her as a princess, which she embraces. Sara befriends Ermengarde, the school dunce; Lottie, a spoiled four-year-old student; and Becky, the African-American scullery maid.
Four years later, Sara receives word from Captain Crewe that he and a childhood friend have become partners in a scheme to gain control of a diamond mine which could potentially multiply his wealth enormously. Miss Minchin later treats Sara to a very luxurious eleventh birthday party per Captain Crewe's request. Just as the party is ending, Captain Crewe's lawyer arrives unexpectedly and tells Miss Minchin that Captain Crewe has died of jungle fever and his partner has gone missing. He then adds that business troubles rendered Captain Crewe's estate completely insolvent, leaving Sara an orphaned pauper. Enraged that she will never be reimbursed for all the services and goods spent on Sara since receiving the last cheque, Miss Minchin seizes all of Sara's possessions except for an outgrown black frock and Emily. Miss Minchin then tells Sara that she will live in the attic next to Becky and work as a servant to continue living in the school.
For the next several years Sara is made to teach the younger students and run errands in all weathers; she is starved and abused by Miss Minchin, the cook, and the other servants. She is consoled by Ermengarde, Lottie, and Becky, who visit her during the night, as well as Emily and a rat she names Melchisedec. Sara extensively uses her imagination as a means of coping, pretending that she and Becky are prisoners in the Bastille. Sara also continues pretending she is still a princess and continues to be kind and polite to everyone including her offenders. One day Sara finds a fourpence in the street and uses it to buy six buns from a friendly baker. The baker witnesses Sara give five of the buns to a beggar girl before leaving. The baker regards Sara as a princess and invites the beggar girl to live with her.
Meanwhile, a sickly man from India, Tom Carrisford, moves into the house next door. Sara sympathetises with him, and becomes interested in him. It is revealed that Mr. Carrisford was Captain Crewe's childhood friend and partner. During their time in India, they had both caught high fevers, and in his delirium, Mr. Carrisford abandoned Captain Crewe. However, the diamond mine scheme had not fallen through as they both had initially believed, and Carrisford became extraordinarily wealthy. Mr. Carrisford feels extremely guilty that Captain Crewe's daughter is missing because of the ordeal and seeks to find her. Her name and school are unknown to him, and he has asked his family to follow false leads in Paris and Moscow. Sara meets Ram Dass, Mr. Carrisford's servant, when his pet monkey escapes into her room through her skylight. Ram Dass immediately admires Sara when she speaks to him in Hindustani. Ram Dass climbs across the roof into Sara's room to retrieve the monkey and sees the poor condition of her room. Ram Dass tells Mr. Carrisford of Sara, who becomes interested in her. Mr. Carrisford decides to secretly send food and gifts to Sara and Becky. Sara is very thankful but does not know who her "mysterious friend" is. The following days become less burdensome to Sara and Becky, to Miss Minchin's confusion.
One night, the monkey escapes into Sara's room through the skylight; Sara decides to return the monkey to Mr. Carrisford the next morning. Sara mentions she had lived in India to Mr. Carrisford. In the climax of the novel, the benefactor learns that Sara is the missing daughter of his late business partner, Captain Crewe. Sara learns that Mr. Carrisford was her father's friend and forgives him when she realises that he is the mysterious friend who helped her. When Miss Minchin visits to reclaim Sara, she is informed that Sara will be living with Mr. Carrisford and her entire fortune has been restored. Miss Minchin coldly asks Sara to come back and continue being a student at her school, but Sara rejects her offer. Becky is invited to live with and be the personal attendant of Sara. With her newfound wealth Sara makes a deal with the baker, proposing to cover the bills for food given to any hungry child.
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.
The thread of the book is evident in the novellas, in which Sara Crewe is left at Miss Minchin's, loses her father, is worked as a drudge, and is surprised with the kindness of an Indian gentleman who turns out to be Captain Crewe's friend. However, at just over one-third the length of the later book, the novella is much less detailed.
Generally, the novel expanded on things in the novella; Captain Crewe's "investments" are only referred to briefly and generally, and much of the information revealed in conversations in the novel is simply summarised. However, there are details in the novella which were dropped for the novel. While a drudge, Sara is said to have frequented a library, in which she read books about women in rough circumstances being rescued by princes and other powerful men. In addition, Mr. Carrisford's illness is specified as liver trouble.
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, however, the title was shortened to the one with which it became famous: A Little Princess. (It was A Little Princess in London, but The Little Princess in New York.)
The play was a success on Broadway, and it is probable that this triumph is what led Burnett to revise it yet again, this time as an expanded, full-length novel. Both versions of the book remain in print, although A Little Princess is better known.
In 1995, Apple published a series of three books written by Gabrielle Charbonnet. The "Princess series" 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.
- A Little Princess
- Molly's Heart
- A Room on the Attic
- Home at Last
- A sequel to A Little Princess was written by Hilary McKay and was published in 2009. The story is titled "Wishing For Tomorrow" and tells the story of what happened to the rest of the boarding school girls after Sara and Becky left.
Film, television, and theatre adaptations
- 1939 version: Shirley Temple as Sara and Mary Nash as Miss Minchin, this 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; and 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.
- 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 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.
- 1997 Russian film Malenkaya printsessa (ru): Anastasiya Meskova as Sara and Alla Demidova as Miss Minchin.
- 1973 version: Deborah Makepeace as Sara and Ruth Dunning as Miss Minchin. This was very faithful to the novel.
- 1986 version: Amelia Shankley as Sara and Maureen Lipman as Miss Minchin. This was also a faithful adaptation.
- Princess Sara: a 1985 Japanese anime series, which was featured as part of Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater staple. The series spanned 46 episodes, including a few new characters and adventures along the way. It is considered by many fans to be the best adaptation of the source material, and was a huge hit in Japan and across Europe. Sarah, the main character, was voiced by Sumi Shimamoto.
- Sōkō no Strain, a 2006 anime that completely reworks the story into a mecha series about "Sara Werec", whose ability to pilot a mecha is taken away when her brother, Ralph, betrays and disgraces the family.
- Princess Sarah, a Filipino 2007 remake.
- Shōkōjo Seira a 2009 remake with the main character Japanese and named Seira, aged 16 when her father dies, and as an Indian Princess. Becky is changed to a male and a romantic lead. (The 1985 TV series by Nippon Animation has a similar title in Japanese, although the two adaptations are not related.)
- "The Penniless Princess" (2012), a Veggietales episode
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.
- 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).
In Popular Culture
- A Little Princess – full text at Wikisource
- Wordsworth edition of A Little Princess
- National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- Bird, Elizabeth (7 July 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". School Library Journal "A Fuse No. 8 Production" blog. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- Emma Brown by Clare Boylan – Reviews, Books – The Independent
- A Little Princess - A New Musical by Marc Folan
- A Little Princess The Musical Off-Broadway and US Premiere
- A Little Princess at Project Gutenberg
- Frances Hodgson Burnett's own theatrical adaptation of “The Little Princesses”