I’m pretty certain that if I’d been introduced to the idea of “desert island books” as a child, A LITTLE PRINCESS would have been on the short list. I can’t possibly count how many times I read it, although I either didn’t own it or had a hardback edition, because I did not, as I did with my paperback THE SECRET GARDEN, read it to literal pieces.
I re-read THE SECRET GARDEN last year and found it, if possible, even better than I had remembered it; A LITTLE PRINCESS is every bit as good as I remembered it. The tale of Sara Crewe’s reversals of fortune–from virtual princess to pauper to ‘rescued’–that was nearly all I could remember of it, going in–is as sweet and compelling as it ever was.
I honestly couldn’t remember how Sara was rescued until all the necessary players had been introduced, and my memory of her exile in poverty–or more particularly, the Magic that makes it bearable–made up a much greater portion of the book than it actually is. I’d also entirely forgotten how comparatively early the story is tipped to the reader: the reader knows what’s going on long before the characters do. These are not things that I recalled at all, and it’s funny to re-discover them.
I also hadn’t had any real memory of the similarities between Sara Crewe and Mary Lennox, except perhaps a vague recollection that India had featured in both their histories. But they’re described similarly, and both have the touch of Magic that, in Sara’s case, makes her exile bearable, and in Mary’s, helps return Colin to health. I suppose as a child I knew they had those things in common, but I’d long since forgotten, and their personalities are much more *unalike* than alike, so Burnett can’t be accused of recycling the character for ease of writing.
There are a couple of twitch-inducing moments, where an Indian man is described as being as light and deft as “only an Oriental could be,” but aside from that it actually ages extremely well.
I did not know until this very day that Burnett was a wildly successful novelist and playwright in her own lifetime, nor that she wrote many, many books for adults as well as the children’s books that have been her lasting legacy. I’m going to have to search out a couple of her adult books, just to have a go at them!