Creativity And Imagination In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess: Part One

I first read A Little Princess when I was in the sixth grade and one of the aspects of the books that struck me as very worthwhile was the way in which creativity and imagination played such an important role in the plot and characterization of the novel.  As a case study in creativity in fiction, A Little Princess is a worthwhile example, and I would like to examine this creativity in two parts.  First, in this shorter part, I would like to examine the examples of creativity that occur when characters have immense resources.  In A Little Princess, we see our creativity most with two groups of people.  ON the one hand, we have Sara Crewe being imaginative for the sake of those around her, particularly her fellow servant Becky, as well as other students like Ermengarde St. John, where resources are generally more lacking.  But when it comes to the sick Mr. Carrisford and his assistant Ram Dass, the creativity comes with the resources to make the creativity particularly effective.  Let us therefore work backwards in the plot and examine the creativity of A Little Princess that is tied to the resources to make it even more impressive.

Late in the novel, Mr. Carrisford explains how it was that their efforts at being creative began:  “So he told them how, when he sat alone, ill and dull and irritable, Ram Dass had tried to distract him by describing the passers-by, and there was one child who passed oftener than anyone else; he had begun to be interested in her – partly because he was thinking a great deal of a little girl, and partly because Ram Dass had been able to relate the incident of his visit to the attic in chase of the monkey.  He had described its cheerless look, and the bearing of the child, who seemed as if she was not of the class of those who were treated as drudges and servants.  Bit by bit, Ram Dass had made discoveries concerning the wretchedness of her life.  He had found out how easy a matter it was to clime across the few yards of roof to the skylight, and this fact had been the beginning of all that followed.  ‘Sahib,’ he had said one day.  ‘I could cross the slates and make the child a fire when she is out on some errand.  When she returned, wet and cold, to find it blazing, she would think a magician had done it [1].’

And what sort of creativity had been shown?  Well, among the last items that had been purchased before Sara’s identity was discovered and she was removed from Miss Minchin’s school were parcels containing “pretty and comfortable clothing – clothing of different kinds:  shoes, stockings, and gloves, and a warm and beautiful coat…even a nice hat and an umbrella [2].”  Most decisively, the morning after she had been yelled at by Miss Minchin and told that she would not be eating anything the next day, she awoke to the following sight:  “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 thick, warm crimson rug; before the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a teapot, on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books [3].”  And of course, there was food as well, which Sara shared with Becky so that they would both be filled in the face of a day that Miss Minchin had meant for punishment.

The novel even provides some discussion of the logistics of how this great generosity was performed by Ram Dass and his associates who worked for Mr. Carrisford and the Carmichaels next door to the school:  “‘Keep your ears open,’ he said; and he began to walk slowly and softly round the miserable little room, making rapid notes on his tablet as he looked at things.  First he went to the narrow bed.  He pressed his hand upon the mattress and uttered an exclamation.  ‘As hard as a stone,’ he said.  ‘That will have to be altered some day when she is out.  A special journey can be made to bring it across.  It cannot be done tonight.’  He lifted the covering and examined the one thin pillow.  ‘Coverlet dingy and warn, blanket thin, sheets patched and ragged,’ he said.  ‘What a bed for a child to sleep in – and in a house which calls itself respectable!  There has not been a fire in that grate for many a day,’ glancing at the rusty fireplace.  ‘Never since I have seen it,’ said Ram Dass.  ‘The mistress of the house is not one who remembers that another than herself may be cold.’  The secretary was writing quickly on his tablet.  He looked up from it as he tore off a leaf and slipped it into his breast pocket [4].'”

What we see from the foregoing is a model of creativity.  First, it starts with observation of a problem, in that there is a small girl who is being cruelly mistreated who catches their attention as a servant who has the bearing of a princess.  After this comes a look at how she lives and how it is that her life may be improved through their creativity.  Then there is the progressive acting upon these ways to provide a better life for her, even without knowing that she is in fact the girl they are looking for, the orphan of Mr. Carrisford’s dear friend and fellow investor in the diamond mines.  It should be noted as well that this creativity continues once Mr. Carrisford has taken over as the guardian of Sara Crewe, and the author notes that the two delight in various acts of creativity [5], which makes all the more sense given the creativity that Sara herself showed, which was done in the absence of the material resources that Mr. Carrisford’s wealth could provide but which were all the more important for her survival in the face of terrible abuse and deprivation.  And it is to that creativity that we will now turn.

[1] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 286.

[2] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 250.

[3] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 232-233.

[4] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 199-200.

[5] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 288.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Creativity And Imagination In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess: Part One

  1. Catharine E. Martin says:

    I think that you hit upon the very important principle that our creative juices can only begin to flow when we get outside of ourselves.

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