Little Lord Fauntleroy

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Little Lord Fauntleroy
Fauntleroycover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrator Reginald Birch

Little Lord Fauntleroy is the first children's novel written by English playwright and author Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was originally published as a serial in the St. Nicholas Magazine between November 1885 and October 1886, then as a book by Scribner's in 1886.[1] The accompanying illustrations by Reginald Birch set fashion trends and Little Lord Fauntleroy also set a precedent in copyright law when in 1888 its author won a lawsuit against E. V. Seebohm over the rights to theatrical adaptations of the work.[2]

Plot[edit]

In a "shabby" "New York side street" in the mid-1880s, young American Cedric Errol lives with his mother (never named, known only as Mrs. Errol or "Dearest") in genteel poverty after his father, Captain Errol (whose first name was also Cedric), dies. They receive a visit from Havisham, an English lawyer with a message from young Cedric's grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt. With the deaths of his father's elder brothers, Cedric is now Lord Fauntleroy and heir to the Earldom and a vast estate. The Earl wants Cedric to live with him and learn to be an English aristocrat. The Earl despises America and was deeply disappointed with Captain Errol, his favourite son, for marrying an American. So he offers Mrs. Errol a house and income, yet refuses to meet or have anything to do with her, even after she declines the offer of the money.

However, the crusty Earl is impressed by the appearance and intelligence of his young American grandson, and charmed by his innocent nature. Cedric, a trusting child, believes his grandfather to be an honorable man and great benefactor, and the Earl cannot bear to disappoint his loving grandson. Thus, the Earl acts as a benefactor to his tenants (as the local populace notices to their delight).

A pretender to Cedric's inheritance appears, his mother claiming that he is the son of the Earl's eldest son, but the claim is investigated and disproved with the assistance of Cedric's loyal friends in New York, one of whom – a bootblack called Dick – recognises the mother as the missing wife of his brother Ben, and her son (the alleged heir) as his own nephew. The Earl is reconciled to his son's American widow after meeting with the other boy's mother, recognising that, despite his preconceptions and prejudices, "Dearest" is a far superior woman to the alternative.

The Earl had intended to teach his grandson how to be an aristocrat; however, Cedric inadvertently teaches his grandfather that an aristocrat should practice compassion towards persons who are dependent on him. The Earl becomes the kind and good man Cedric always innocently believed him to be. Cedric's mother is invited by the Earl to live in the ancestral castle, and Cedric's old friend Mr. Hobbs, the New York City grocer, who came to England to help investigate the false claim, decides to stay to help look after Cedric.

Impact on fashion[edit]

The Fauntleroy suit, so well-described by Burnett and realised in Reginald Birch's detailed pen-and-ink drawings, created a fad for formal dress for American middle-class children:

"What the Earl saw was a graceful, childish figure in a black velvet suit, with a lace collar, and with lovelocks waving about the handsome, manly little face, whose eyes met his with a look of innocent good-fellowship." (Little Lord Fauntleroy)

The Fauntleroy suit appeared in Europe as well, but nowhere was it as popular as in America. The classic Fauntleroy suit was a velvet cut-away jacket and matching knee pants worn with a fancy blouse with a large lace or ruffled collar. These suits appear right after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's story (1885) and were a major fashion until after the turn of the 20th century. Many boys who did not wear an actual Fauntleroy suit wore suits with Fauntleroy elements such as a fancy blouse or floppy bow. Only a minority of boys wore ringlet curls with these suits, but the photographic record confirms that many boys did. It was most popular for boys about 3–8 years of age, but some older boys wore them as well. It has been speculated that the popularity of the style encouraged many mothers to breech their boys earlier than before and was a factor in the decline of the fashion of dressing small boys in dresses and other skirted garments.[3] Clothing Burnett popularised was modelled on the costumes she tailored herself for her two sons, Vivian and Lionel.[2]

A lobby card from the 1921 film adaptation starring Mary Pickford.

Reception[edit]

Polly Hovarth writes that Little Lord Fauntleroy "was the Harry Potter of his time and Frances Hodgson Burnett was as celebrated for creating him as J.K. Rowling is for Potter." During the serialisation in St. Nicholas magazine, readers looked forward to new instalments. The fashions in the book became popular with velvet Lord Fauntleroy suits being sold, as well as other Fauntleroy merchandise such as velvet collars, playing cards, and chocolates. During a period when sentimental fiction was the norm, and in the United States the "rags to riches" story popular, Little Lord Fauntleroy was a hit.[4]

Edith Nesbit included in her own children's book The Enchanted Castle (1907) a rather unflattering reference:

Gerald could always make himself look interesting at a moment's notice (...) by opening his grey eyes rather wide, allowing the corners of his mouth to droop, and assuming a gentle, pleading expression, resembling that of the late little Lord Fauntleroy who must, by the way, be quite old now, and an awful prig.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

There have been several movie versions of the book produced over many years:

Broadway debut[edit]

Little Lord Fauntleroy
Original Cast, Broadway Theatre, New York, 10 December 1888.[10][11]
Earl of Dorincourt – J. H. Gilmore
Cedric Errol (Lord Fauntleroy) – Elsie Leslie and Tommy Russell
Mr. Havisham, a Solicitor – F. F. Mackay
Mr. Hobbs, a Grocer – George A. Parkhurst
Dick, a Bootblack – Frank E. Lamb
Higgens, a Farmer – John Swinburne
Wilkins, a Groom – Alfred Klein
Thomas, a Footman – John Sutherland
James, a Servant – T. J. Plunkett
Mrs. Errol ("Dearest") – Kathryn Kidder
Mina – Alice Fischer
Mary – Effie Germon

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joanne Shattock, ed. The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: Volume 4 1800–1900. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 1475.
  2. ^ a b Rutherford
  3. ^ "Historical boys Clothing site section on Fauntleroy suits". Histclo.com. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  4. ^ Hovarth,(2004)|, xi–xiv
  5. ^ IMDB entry
  6. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1916&dat=19770331&id=--kgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MW4FAAAAIBAJ&pg=4312,5388780
  7. ^ "Umfrage: Die beliebtesten Weihnachtsfilme". Moviepilot.de. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  8. ^ "Zweitausendeins. Filmlexikon FILME von A-Z - Der kleine Lord (1994 D/I)". Zweitausendeins.de. 1996-12-18. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  9. ^ "Die kleine Lady". prisma.de. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  10. ^ "Burnett, Frances Hodgson ''Little Lord Fauntleroy: A Drama in Three Acts'', 1889/1913". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  11. ^ Little Lord Fauntleroy – Internet Broadway Database accessed 6.7.13

Sources[edit]

  • Horvath, Polly (2004), "Foreword", Little Lord Fauntleroy, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-0-689-86994-5 
  • Rutherford, L.M. (1994), "British Children's Writers 1880–1914", in Laura M. Zaldman, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 141, Detroit: Gale Research Literature Resource Center

External links[edit]