What would you do if your father died half a world away and left you an impoverished orphan stranded in a boarding school with a Dolores Umbridge-wannabe headmistress and a bunch of classmates who would probably be rejected by Slytherin?
Scream? Cry? Beg social services to take you away?
Not Sara Crewe. Sara gives new meaning to the phrase "stiff upper lip." Whatever life throws at her—and it's a lot—she uses her innate compassion and power of imagination to triumph. (It also helps that she's fluent in Hindustani and French.)
Did we mention that she's only nine when the story begins?
Frances Hodgson Burnett first published a novella called Sara Crewe: Or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's in 1887 and 1888. Later adapted into a stage play, the story reached its final form as A Little Princess in 1905.
But it's not about an actual princess. In fact, it tells the story of a young girl on a fast, downward slope. After she learns that her father has died and left her penniless, her life gets bad—fast. The story is set around the turn of the century in England, so there's no foster care or Child Protective Services to look out for her. She ends up as a mistreated servant at the boarding school where she used to be a wealthy pupil.
Major bummer, right? But not for long: A Little Princess is a story of survival and hope. Even when she's literally starving and freezing, Sara uses her imagination and her perseverance to survive—with the grace of a real-life princess. And in the end, she gets a true fairy tale ending that, like other princesses-in-disguise, she earned through her compassion and innate kindness.
Trust us: it's a satisfying ending.
Yeah, we're a little tired of hearing that every girl is a princess, too. Come on! Some girls can be astrophysicists, and some girls can be homemakers. (Maybe someday a girl can even be president, eh?)
But it had to start somewhere, and Burnett's A Little Princess is a pretty good bet for origin story. Sara Crewe is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary gift for storytelling. Through her imagination, she teaches herself and her friends that you don't have to be royal to be a princess; you just have to be kind, and brave, and true.
Her stories of heroes in the Bastille, of faraway lands, and of underwater princesses inspire her to be a better person: and that's the kind of princess we can get behind. No princess wedding dresses necessary.