Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess

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A Little Princess Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

A Little Princess, a 1905 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, began as a short story, but due to its popularity, Burnett expanded the story into a novel. A Little Princess is regarded as one of the best children’s novels of all time. It focuses on themes of perseverance, friendship, and strength of character. The novel’s issues are still relatable today to both children and adults.

Captain Ralph Crewe and his daughter, Sara, have arrived in London after living abroad in India. Captain Crewe is quite wealthy and believes a London boarding school education will be the best route for Sara. Sara is being enrolled in Miss Minchin’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Sara is not looking forward to being apart from her father, but she resolves to be brave, as he is. She does not like the school very much when she arrives—Miss Minchin seems to only be nice to her and her father because of money, which Sara sees right through. Sara decides to be happy in the time she has left with her father, and he spoils her with presents, including a doll she names Emily.

Sara’s father soon leaves for India. Sara is correct about Miss Minchin, she is only being nice due to the extra payment Sara’s father is supplying for Sara to have extra luxuries. Over time, Miss Minchin begins to resent Sara because she is outgoing, intelligent, and wealthy. Sara makes friends at school, including Ermengarde, who is regarded as unintelligent by others. She also befriends a younger girl named Lottie, who has frequent tantrums. To the surprise of others, Sara also befriends a maid at the school, Becky. Sara hints at her intelligence with her fluent knowledge of French, and the other girls begin to refer to her as a princess. Sara takes it as a compliment—princesses are kind and good in her mind.

Soon, it is Sara’s birthday and Miss Minchin throws a large party for her. During the party, Captain Crewe’s lawyer arrives with some unfortunate news. Captain Crewe has died. Beyond that, his most recent venture, an investment into diamond mines, has failed. Sara has been left with nothing. Miss Minchin is furious, as there are bills left unpaid, including the party. Yet, Miss Minchin delights in the fact she can now be openly mean to Sara. Miss Minchin strips Sara of all her belongings, except for a doll and one simple dress. Sara must move to the attic and begin working as a servant to pay off her debts.

Everyone begins to treat Sara in a deplorable way, except for Becky. The neighbors, a rich man and his Indian servant, notice Sara and feel badly for her, although they think she is a little odd. Sara survives her subjugation by making up fantastical stories. She pretends she is a prisoner in the Bastille, or a princess who must disguise herself as a servant. She also befriends a rat and speaks with her doll.

The attic is cold and she does not have a real bed. She is often sent out in the cold to run errands, without proper, warm clothes. She is also not fed well, so one day when she finds a coin on the street, she decides to buy some bread. Although she is starving, she notices a girl her age begging for food on the street, so she gives the girl her bread. The baker notices this and tries to reward Sara, but is unable to catch her. The baker then feeds the beggar girl and gives her shelter.

The neighbor is Captain Crewe’s business partner, Carrisford. He is actively searching for Sara, because although her father died, the diamond mine was a success. Sara is richer than she was before. Carrisford had the same sickness Captain Crewe did, he survived, with some ailments, but is mostly focused on finding Sara to ease his survivor’s guilt. Unfortunately, he is looking in the wrong places and not next door.

Carrisford’s Indian servant, Ram Dass, befriends Sara one day, as his pet monkey has escaped to her attic. He climbs the roof to retrieve the monkey and notices Sara’s dilapidated attic. He informs Carrisford of her living situation, so they decide to greatly improve what she already has. This act comes at a great time, as Miss Minchin has stopped feeding Sara. Carrisford and Ram Dass secretly supply Sara with comfortable furniture and food. Sara and Becky are delighted and believe it is the work of elves or magic, as everything appeared overnight. Miss Minchin is annoyed that Becky and Sara are not as miserable anymore.

One day, a package arrives for Sara, from an anonymous Carrisford, an expensive dress in Sara’s correct size. Miss Minchin panics, believing Sara has a long lost wealthy relative. She begins to allow her to attend class again, and treats her slightly better. The monkey escapes again to Sara’s room, and she decides to return it next door. When she meets Carrisford, she casually mentions she once lived in India. Carrisford begins to wonder if she is Sara Crewe. Her identity is confirmed, and Sara learns of her increased wealth. Carrisford offers her his home, and she gladly accepts.

Miss Minchin arrives to retrieve Sara, but she is told the news of Sara’s new situation. Miss Minchin attempts to flatter Sara to return to the school, but when Sara rejects the offer, Miss Minchin threatens to keep her friends from her. Carrisford rebuffs her, telling Miss Minchin that her students’ parents would probably not refuse an invite from a diamond mine heiress. Miss Minchin is furious, as she has lost her chance at more money. She leaves. Sara invites Becky to be her personal servant. Sara and Becky discover the girl Sara gave her bread to is now the baker’s apprentice.  Life greatly improves for Sara. Carrisford’s health improves and he treats Sara like his own.