Hayley on her lovely blog, Desperate Reader recently posted about her reading of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett here and as soon as I read it I knew I simply had to read it again myself, and I did. And oh how I loved it all over again. It must be some twenty years or so since I last opened it up and to meet Sarah Crewe, Ermengarde, Becky and Miss Minchin again brought all the memories flooding back. I knew nothing about this book as a child but we had a very old copy at home, I remember it well, it was a blue book with the title in gold writing, no dust jacket and my mother had no idea where it had come from but there it was and one day I decided to read it.
Well, three hours later and with red eyes and a red nose from crying and snuffling I closed it up and wished I could read it all over again with that feeling of excitement and enchantment one gets from the first discovery of a book you love. That feeling is never recaptured, each reading and re-reading is enjoyable and different but that first, fine careless rapture is gone. This is why, even now, I sometimes hold back a book I am simply dying to read as I want to delay losing that fresh first discovery - I have said this to people who have looked at me as if I was mad, but I know that all readers of Random will know exactly what I mean.
The story is essentially that of Cinderella. Sara Crewe, only daughter of Ralph Crewe, an army officer who adores his only child, has brought her to England for her education as all Indian officers did at that time. She is rather a nice, sensible child which is good else she would have had her head turned by the lavish presents and all the luxuries her father buys for her. She is left in the charge of Miss Minchin at her Seminary for Young Ladies. Isn't Minchin a horrid name? We know straight away what sort of nasty mean person she is going to be and of course we are right. Eager to show her prize pupil off to all and sundry, her demeanour changes when, tragically, Captain Crewe dies in India, having lost all his money in the Diamond Mines venture, and Sarah is left a pauper. Put to work by the ghastly Minchin she is indeed Cinderella, increasingly unhappy, starved and overworked. And it is when she is at her lowest ebb, when Miss Minchin has been even more cruel and vile to her, that The Magic arrives - in other words her fairy godmother. She is cold and hungry and has fallen asleep crying in her bare dirty attic and when she wakes up, what does she find:
"This is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm, crimson rug; before the fire, unfolded, and with cushions on it; ........on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin quitl....the room of her dream seems changed into fairyland....'Oh I never had such a dream before' she panted....'It can't be true but oh how true it seems!'"
When I read this for the first time I remember being filled with tremulous excitement just as Sarah must have felt and I remember crying at her joy and happiness. I had the same reaction when I read the story last week and had to make sure I had my tissues handy as I found my eyes full of tears again.
In the end, Sarah finds happiness and is restored to her old happy life with a new guardian, an old friend of her father who had been searching for her since his death in India. But Sarah remembers the days when she was cold and tired and hungry and the time she met a starving begger girl and the story ends with her making sure that she can help such homeless children so that they will always have food and shelter.
This may make her sound a little saint, but she isn't. This is the joy of A Little Princess that Sarah is an interesting and rather delightful little girl. I have a copy of this on my shelves which is earmarked to go to Florence and Beatrice when they are old enough and I so hope they love it as much as I did and as I still do.
Another author I loved as a child was Susan Coolidge creator of the Katy books - What Katy did, What Katy did at School and what Katy did next, chronicling the lives of the Carr family and, in particular, Katy and her sister Clover. I simply loved these books too and only recently, with the advent of the Kindle, have I tracked down two books about Clover which I had never read, and others, stand alone, which I had never heard of.
One of these, A Little Country Girl, tells the story of Candace, an orphan brought up by an old aunt, going to Newport for the summer to stay with a distant relative of her mother who is thinking, though Candace does not know this, of adopting her and having her live with her family. Candace has never travelled far and is feeling rather lonely and out of things as she takes the ferry to her destination and finds she is being looked down upon by some of her travelling companions:
"They were rather pretty girls of that hard modern type which have the air of knowing everything worth knowing, have the right to everything worth having and being fully determined to claim that right to its fullest extent. As Candace entered they favoured her with one rapid, scrutinizing glance that took in every detail of her apparel, from the goat skin boots which were too large for her feet to the round hat whose every bow bore witness to a country milliner, and after that they noticed her no more"
Easy to guess how the story unfolds. Mrs Gray and her daughters welcome her into their household though the eldest child is not too keen on having her there, she gradually blossoms and gains confidence and her innate goodness rubs off on all she meets until she is at the heart of the family and the community and she stays with them permanently.
This is a charming story, not as good as the Katy books, in my opinion, as it is a much slighter tale but I was delighted to find this little gem, which was totally unknown to me. It reminded me very much of An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, but Susan Coolidge, though given to moralising as all good Victorian children's books did, has a lighter touch in this regard than Ms Alcottt and it goes down pretty well and does not jar.
I read both these books, on my Kindle, over a weekend and I think it does me good to leave aside the modern writing which is my usual fare, the murders, the detective stories and everything else and to remember a happier, gentler time when I would lose myself in these lovely stories. The child in me regularly loves to re-read my favourites of my childhood and the fact that I am discovering new ones fills me with delight.
Mem: I have just checked and a Little Country Girl is available FREE on Amazon to download to your Kindle. Cannot get a better bargain than that! Ditto A Little Princess FREE
I have just finished reading two extremely complicated and intricately plotted thrillers by M R Hall, one of which I reviewed last week, and I now rather fancy picking up Little Lord Fauntleroy again which, despite what people think, is NOT sloppy and sentimental but rather sharp and to the point. Then there is another favourite of Frances Hodgson Burnett which I am thinking of checking out again, The Lost Prince, not one of her well known titles but a stonking good story, full of Ruritanian type characters and derring do and simply thrilling and romantic.
I have the entire works of Frances Hodgson Burnett on my Kindle, bought for the mightly sum of 79p a year ago, so while I am sunning myself at Bondi or lying on the golden beaches of Vanuatu in a few weeks I will be able to totally relax and read and read and read.
What a glorious thought.....