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

It is now worthwhile to turn out attention to the immense creativity of Sara Crewe shown in A Little Princess, creativity that begins when she still has a great deal of money, and that continues when she is impoverished and made into a drudge for Miss Minchin’s school.  Since there are so many examples of this creativity throughout the novel A Little Princess, and this discussion is by necessity a short one as a case study of creativity in literature, this particular essay will only cover a selective sample of the many examples of the author’s references to Sara Crewe’s creativity within the novel.  In addition, in order to make sense of creativity and how it serves to provide imaginative resources to a young lady who, as a penniless orphan throughout most of the novel, can be assumed to lack a great deal in terms of resources, this also allows the reader to gain an understanding of how creativity can provide resources to those who are similarly without many resources in our contemporary world.

First, let us note how Sara’s imagination allows her to deal with the gnawing hunger that comes from her abuse and neglect in Miss Minchin’s house, perhaps the most serious but also one of the most important ways in which creativity and imagination can give one the resilience to overcome difficulty:  “‘I suppose soldiers feel like this when they are on a long and weary march,’ she often said to herself.  She liked the sound of the phrase, ‘long and weary march.’  It made her feel rather like a soldier.  She also had a quant sense of being a hostess in an attic.  ‘If I lived in a castle,’ she argued, ‘and Ermengarde was the lady of another castle, and came to see me, with knights and squires and vassals riding with her, and pennons flying; when I heard the clarions sounding outside the drawbridge I should go down to receive her, and I should spread feasts in the banquet-hall and call in misntrels to sing and play and relate romances.  When she comes into the attic I can’t spread feasts, but I can tell stories, and not let her known disagreeable things.  I dare say poor chatelaines had to do that in times of famine, when their lands had been pillaged.’  She was a proud, brave little chatelaine, and dispensed generously the one hospitality she could offer – the dreams she dreamed – the visions she saw – the imaginings which were her joy and comfort [1].”

There are other ways in which the imaginative capacity of Sara allowed her to deal with the abusive aspects of her life, as when she has her ears boxed by the cruel Miss Minchin:  “She was not in the least frightened now, though her boxed ears were scarlet and her eyes were as bright as stars.  ‘I was thinking,’ she answered grandly and politely, ‘that you did not know what you were doing.’  ‘That I did not know what I was doing?’ Miss Minchin fairly gasped.  ‘Yes,’ said Sara.  ‘And I was thinking what would happen if I were a princess and you boxed my ears – what I should do to you.  And I was thinking that if I were one, you would never dare do it, whatever I said or did.  And I was thinking how surprised and frightened you would be if you suddenly found out -‘  She had the imagined future so clearly before her eyes that she spoke in a manner which had an effect even upon Miss Minchin.  It almost seemed for the moment to her narrow, unimaginative mind that there must be some real power behind this candid daring.  ‘What?” she exclaimed?  ‘Found out what?’  ‘That I really was a princess,’ said Sarah, ‘and could do anything – anything I liked [2].'”  Here we find Sara’s self-image as a princess giving her the strength to overcome the abusiveness of her situation and the recognition that in the behavior of Miss Minchin there is also a bit of fear about the power that Sara has that she does not.  As Sara had said to Lavinia earlier, “Sometimes I do pretend that I am a princess.  I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one [3].'”

It is not only the problems of abuse that lead to Sara exercising her immense powers of creativity.  They also serve to help her deal with her own grief at being a motherless child and also help her to deal empathetically with the similar struggles of the young and admittedly bratty Lottie:  “Sara paused a moment.  Because she had been told that her mamma was in heaven, she had thought a great deal about the matter, and her thoughts had not been quite like those of other people.  ‘She went to heaven,’ she said. ‘But I am sure she comes out sometimes to see me – though I don’t see her.  So does yours.  Perhaps they can both see us now.  Perhaps they are both in this room.’  Lottie sat bolt upright, and looked about her.  She was a pretty, little, curly-headed creature, and her round eyes were like wet forget-me-nots.  If her mamma had seen her during the last half-hour, she might not have thought her the kind of child who ought to be related to an angel.   Sara went on talking.  Perhaps some people might think that what she said was rather like a fairy story, but it was all so real to her own imagination that Lottie began to listen in spite of herself.  She had been told that her mamma had wings and a crown, and she had been shown pictures of ladies in beautiful white night-gowns, who were said to be angels.  But Sara seemed to be telling a real story about a lovely country where real people were [4].”  Even in a situation like this one, where the imagination fixes itself upon something that has no relationship to truth whatsoever, and no aspect of reality, Sara finds the imaginative resources not only to comfort her own sense of loss for her mother, but also to comfort someone else who had suffered the same loss that she did.

Finally, in looking at the fancy of Sara’s that first shows itself in the book, we can see that her imaginative belief about dolls and their possible humanity makes ordinary reality somehow more magical and thus provides the space of her imagination to blossom even further.  This capacity, initially developed when she was a wealthy and spoiled girl, serves her well later on.  As the author relates:  “‘What I believe about dolls,’ she said, ‘is that they can do things they will not let us know about.  Perhaps, really, Emily can read and talk and walk, but she will only do it when people are out of the room.  That is her secret.  You see, if people knew that dolls could do things, they would make them work.  So, perhaps, they have promised each other to keep it a secret [5].'”  Here we see in Sara, even at the beginning of the novel, is a sense of insight about the workings of the adult world and the understanding that creativity requires privacy and also helps make the world a richer place full of surprises and wonder and not something to be taken for granted.

Let us therefore recap.  The consistent emphasis that France Hodgson Burnett has on the creativity of Sara Crewe throughout A Little Princess has a very serious point when it comes to reflecting upon her imaginative resources.  We have seen that this imagination helps her to see the world as a magical place and therefore one that must be viewed with a certain degree of enthusiasm and expectation of surprise.  In addition, we have seen that her capacity for imagination also helps her deal with personal grief and show empathy for others who have suffered in the same amount she has, making her a more compassionate and understanding person.  Additionally, her imaginative choice of various roles for herself like a princess or a chateline give her the resources to cope with abuse and to have models of proper conduct to follow.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sara’s creativity allows her to overcome the trauma of her father’s death and her experience as a drudge living in a cold attic and the cruelty and neglect of Miss Minchin that leaves her hungry and injured.  And many of us have the same sort of experiences that Sara did–we suffer losses, we deal with abuse and ridicule from others, and we have need for imaginative resources to allow us to live in a better way than we have experienced in real life.  In that light, Sara Crewe can serve as a model of resilience through the development of historical understanding and imaginative storytelling and playing pretend to cope with life’s difficulties.

[1] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 212.

[2] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 167-168.

[3] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 71.

[4] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 47.

[5] Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (Falkirk, UK:  Puffin Books, 2008), 19.

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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3 Responses to Creativity And Imagination In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess: Part Two

  1. Catharine E. Martin says:

    How much more must we, as true royalty and heirs to the Promise? Her dreams are our reality through faith. We must remember these things to equip us in dealing with life’s hardships. Our God-given imagination must be transformed into that same steadfast hope. What a fascinating story and review.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Frances Hodgson Burnett | Edge Induced Cohesion

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