A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The first glimpse we get of Mr. Carrisford, the "Indian gentleman" who moves in next door, isn't too encouraging: he's "a man with a haggard, distressed face, and a skeleton body wrapped in furs" (10.2).
And no wonder. Poor Mr. Carrisford (1) thinks that he's responsible for his friend Ralph Crewe's death, and (2) has been searching all over the world (literally) for Ralph's daughter, who's now heir to a fantastical fortune. He takes his task seriously: "Carmichael," he said, "I MUST find her. If she is alive, she is somewhere. If she is friendless and penniless, it is through my fault" (12.33).
So, we know that Mr. Carrisford has a strong sense of duty. (How British of him.) We also get a sense that he's kind. When Ram Dass has the idea to bring a little comfort to the little abused girl next door—that would be Sara—Mr. Carrisford has a "childlike pleasure" (19.1) in seeing the plan through. And he's obviously delighted to find Sara.
There's just one thing: if this were the kind of fairy story that Sara likes to tell, Mr. Carrisford would be a Prince Charming who swoops in to save Sara by marrying her. Instead, he's a sickly old man. Not very charming, is it?
Obviously, we're happy that he rescues her from the evil Miss Minchin, but we're left wondering: why isn't he a handsome prince? Why does this fairy story end with the princess finding a father figure rather than a soul mate?