The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall

WellofLoneliness

Banned on charges of pornography when it was first published (it depicted a lesbian and her relationships), Radclyffe Hall’s epic tale of courage and despair is an invitation to grief, moving as it does from hardship to ostracism and back again.

Born to a loving pair of country gentry, Stephen Gordon is born a girl, instead of the son they expected. It very quickly becomes apparent that she is in no way like other ‘proper little girls’: she prefers to ride astride than sidesaddle, climb trees, and stamp about the manor pretending to be Lord Nelson.

Her mother does not love her (she feels an instinctive revulsion towards Stephen), the other children tease her, and her only friends are her pony (named after a housemaid she developed a crush on, and who was subsequently dismissed from her post), and her Father, who keeps his daughter’s homosexuality hidden from both his wife and daughter herself, and who raises Stephen as though she were a boy, all the while telling her that she is completely normal. I’m not judging his actions here; his character is that of a truly lovely person, who loves his daughter deeply and who becomes her dearest friend, but his denial, until his deathbed, of anything being abnormal about Stephen does not help to prepare her for the world, nor for self-knowledge.

It is a very sad novel, and never has a title been more appropriate. As Stephen matures, she becomes more obviously odd and isolated in the narrow-minded Worcestershire town of her birth. This is no tale of slowly growing acceptance. It is a striking portrait of the harm done to children through social isolation (she is schooled at home by a succession of governesses of varying competence, visiting only occasionally with the neighbours’ bullying brats) and restrictive cultural norms designed to punish a person for simply being oneself.

It is also a striking depiction of the pre-WW1 era, where the wealthy purchased entire lifetimes of servitude from their social and economic inferiors, able to use and discard them without consideration for their well-being, be it mental, emotional or financial. I felt particularly sorry for Puddle, Stephen’s long-time governess and companion, who spends the better years of her life educating and watching over the young woman, at the cost to any personal life of her own.

The Well of Loneliness describes a litany of misfortunes and suffering one would only usually expect to see in a traditional Blues song – Stephen is the cause of her parents relationship horribly failing; her father dies unexpectedly; her mother grows ever more distant and disapproving; the one friend she makes (a young man) eventually falls in love with her and then leaves when she rejects him in horror; she falls in love with a bored married woman who uses her for relief from the ennui of country life, before throwing her under the bus that is her vindictive husband; her mother, discovering her homosexuality, says she would rather have a dead child at her feet than a living “unnatural” daughter and exiles her from her home; her beloved horse goes lame and she has to shoot it, she becomes a hermit in London, World War One starts…and the trauma does not stop.

Finally completing this wrenchingly sad novel was a pyrrhic victory (I had to wade through it first), and I look forward to never reading it again. I do not mean that it is badly written; rather, it is a incredibly beautifully written shout against the injustices of being a queer person trying to live in that era, burdened with that era’s religiosity, heavy stress upon gender roles (which Stephen internalises in her own life, and describes in those of her queer friends’), and ultimate invalidation of any lifestyle fulfilment which doesn’t involve eventually marrying and having children. Hall intended to write the novel this way; deeming it the most important work she would ever complete, she sought to use her existing literary fame to bring the outcast status of sexual and gender minorities into the public view, and to create conversation about it. The character of Stephen portrays a person who, with all her advantages – strength, intelligence, independence, literary success – is hopelessly doomed to fail, tilting her lance as she does up against a windmill of hatred and intolerance from the entire world of “God’s good people.”

Stephen’s sexuality becomes the sole defining influence upon her life, as it must when people are so swift to polarisation and fanaticism about a single characteristic. At the cost of being herself and being an honourable person, she loses her community, her family, her home, and, eventually, the woman she loves.

It was a narrow squeak between finishing The Well of Loneliness and it finishing me – for the love of puppies, don’t read this novel if you are an unhappy person, because it will make you terribly sad.

K.L gives The Well of Loneliness 2 out of 5 tragic Englishwomen-in-exile. Sorry, Well lovers – it is simply too depressing to give a higher score to!

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Some noteworthily awful quotes:

“No woman’s complete until she is married. After all, no woman can really stand alone, she always needs a man to protect her.”

“It is you who are unnatural, not I. And this thing that you are is a sin against creation. Above all is this thing a sin against the father who bred you, the father whom you dare to resemble. You dare to look like your father, and your face is a living insult to his memory, Stephen. I will never be able to look at you now without thinking of the deadly insult of your face and your body to the memory of the man who bred you. I can only thank God that your father died before he was asked to endure this great shame. As for you, I would rather see you dead at my feet than standing before me—this unspeakable outrage that you call love in that letter which you don’t deny having written.”

 

And finally, as a reward for making it so far, here is a portrait of the striking Radclyffe Hall herself.

Radclyffe Hall

 

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Moonstone

The Moonstone: Amusing. Infuriating. Entertaining. Largely recognised as a precursor to the mystery and thriller genres, it is appropriately dramatic and suspenseful, displaying elements of classic detective fiction, from various locked room mysteries to incompetent local constabulary outfaced by a professional investigator (albeit one with a passion for horticulture). The Moonstone unfolds over a breadth of time and geography unusual in the genre, traveling from an genteel country estate to the social thickets of London and the beaches of Frizinghall.

The Moonstone is narrated in an epistolary style; several different characters recount the events that they were privy to surrounding the mysterious affair of the Moonstone, their personal opinions colouring the occurrences. The first stage of the narrative is taken up by fussy, misogynistic, intensely loyal house steward to the Verinder family, Gabriel Betteridge, at the request of a Mr. Franklin Blake, some time after the conclusion of the events of The Moonstone, the better to understand the sequence of unfortunate events surrounding the titular jewel. The setting is the eve of the young Miss Rachel Verinder’s 18th birthday, and her cousin Mr. Franklin Blake seeks out the advice of Betteridge as to a certain stone and letter that he has been instructed to give to Miss Rachel Verinder as part of a will. The stone is the Moonstone, a fabulously valuable diamond stolen from a temple in India by her mother’s disreputable elder brother, the wicked Colonel Herncastle.

Herncastle, youngest of three sons, entered the army and was bounced from regiment to regiment before returning home with heat stroke and a reputation black enough to make all members of his family close their doors against him, Lady Julia Verinder (his younger sister) leading the charge; “(i)t was said he had got possession of his Indian jewel by means which, bold as he was, he didn’t dare acknowledge.”

Misgivings aside, it is Miss Rachel Verinder’s legal inheritance. On Betteridge’s advice, the stone is duly presented to Miss Rachel Verinder, who wears it for one brief night during her birthday party, before it disappears the next morning. Who did it? How? The disappearance of the stone is followed by a mysterious absence of one of the household staff, and a series of inexplicable actions taken by Miss Rachel Verinder herself.

There is an array of potential perpetrators of the crime – the maid Rosanna Spearman, a reformed criminal; Mr. Franklin Blake, a slapdash, money-burning cousin; Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite, a suitor; the vast array of household servants, and a trio of disguised Brahmins seeking to reclaim their stolen property – are examined throughout the novel.

 

The tale is riveting, particularly due to the depth and breadth of characterisation which Collins was able to channel into the narrative voice of each character. You know them, when you read their words; and largely they are flawed, complex, interesting, amusing people. Not that one would like a Betteridge of one’s own acquaintance (he is a misogynistic bore), nor a Miss Clack (she is a tireless, fanatical proselytizer); but they each add a brilliant sense of personhood to the stories that they tell.

Betteridge is a favourite of mine, despite his misogynistic attitudes towards all women barring his mistress and her daughter; a kind of Madonna/Whore dichotomy without the lasciviousness of sex. He recounts early on in the novel with a sense of satisfaction of marrying his housecleaner so that he would no longer have to pay her. “Selina, being a single woman, made me pay so much a week for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn’t charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing.” He comes out with many such gems, as does the reprehensible, pitiable Miss Clack, though she is censuring of her richer cousin’s wilfulness, indicative as it is of her fallen, heathen nature (jealousy would have nothing to do with it, nor a desire to meddle and control, if one is to trust her words). She believes that, “knowing Rachel’s spirit to have been essentially unregenerate from her childhood upwards, I was prepared for whatever my aunt could tell me on the subject of her daughter…Here surely was a case for a clergyman, if ever there was one yet!”

 

I would have liked to hear the story unfolded from Miss Rachel Verinder’s point of view. Throughout much of the novel she is talked about and around; but when she is quoted and observed directly, the personality communicated is one of a forthright, intelligent person pursuing her own course despite public opinion or attempts to influence her. The interfering cousin Miss Clack communicates this as she observes old Mr. Ablewhite trying to genteelly (and then not) bully Miss Rachel Verinder into agreeing to marry his son, thus securing her fortune. Miss Verinder responds to him:

“ “Mr. Ablewhite, I have either expressed myself very badly, or you are purposefully mistaking me. Once and for all, it is a settled thing between your son and myself that we remain, for the rest of our lives, cousins and nothing more. Is that plain enough?” …preserving her composure in a manner which (having regard to her age and her sex) was simply awful to see.”

 

The slower evolution of the story, unfolding over a couple of years as it does, allows the reader to observe the effects of the theft of the Moonstone, and the machinations of people in and around the Verinder family. It is an admirable work in many ways, not least of which is the humanity Collins sought to show in his characters, and which they saw in each other – exceptions existing in Betteridge’s attitudes towards women, and Miss Clack’s disregard for the servants. Even in the personage of Miss Rachel Verinder, her lack of a first-person narrative does not prevent her personality from being fully realised.

 

Unfortunately, The Moonstone falls prey to the casual racism of the day, alternatively portraying the three Indian gentlemen trying to reclaim their stolen religious relic as examples of the superstitious savage, then as cold-blooded cutthroats completely willing to stalk the possessors of the Moonstone patiently for years, waiting for their chance to strike, and finally as well-dressed and well-spoken sorts who, aside of their skin-colour, could hardly be told apart from a “normal” person.

“He was carefully dressed in European costume. But his swarthy complexion, his long lithe figure, and his grave and graceful politeness of manner were enough to betray his Oriental origin to any intelligent eyes that looked at him.” It is an awful set of assumptions to unpack in a paragraph. After all, the foreign gentleman could not naturally nor comfortably dress in tweeds; he has to wear it as a costume, a part which he is playing. But clever white men, if they look closely, will see that he is still a “Hindoo” in disguise, despite his “excellent selection of English words” and ability to interact politely and normally in a social context. His mysterious Otherness is too exotic to be concealed, and every aspect of his being betrays him, from his skin (too dark) to his figure (too long and slender), to his composure and his very language. He is unable to simply sit in an office and speak to someone about business; he must move with a dancer’s grace, and act out his part with an obviousness that salves the assumed male, European reader’s ego – no foreigners will fool him. He will be able to pick them out, if he looks carefully. The white male will keep Europe safe from infiltration.

Ugh. And – despite knowing who the three Indian gentlemen are throughout the entire novel, and knowing exactly what they are after – there is no suggestion made by any members of the supporting cast to, maybe…give them back their stolen property? Naive of me to suggest, possibly. But only if the reader denies the agency and moral rights of the non-white characters, as surely as Collins did.

 

If you can move past the sexism and racism explicit in Collins’ work, then I strongly recommend reading The Moonstone. I enjoyed it, even though it made me fume regularly, and would read it again.

 

K.L gives The Moonstone 5 out of 5 interfering busybodies hiding religious tracts in other peoples’ houses.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

One more dose of Betteridge, who doesn’t approve of anything:

“Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life—the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see—especially when their tastes are of what is called the intellectual sort—how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit. Nine times out of ten they take to torturing something, or to spoiling something—and they firmly believe they are improving their minds, when the plain truth is, they are only making a mess in the house.”

 

 

Like K.L.’s writing? They’ve recently published their first eBook, The Loaded Brush, a collection of poems.

Sample or buy it here!: http://www.amazon.com/Loaded-Brush-Collected-Poetry-ebook/dp/B00LP3UKDI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405144342&sr=1-1&keywords=the+loaded+brush

 

Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë

 

Agnes Grey, my first book by one of the inimitable Brontë sisters, did not exactly fill me with enthusiasm to read more. 

An interesting exploration of the hardships (both emotional and professional) endured by young governesses when they were hired to educate the children of geographically isolated members of the gentry.

The titular character, Agnes, is raised as a kind of invalid of leisure by her parents and elder sister. The happy family is reduced in circumstances when their father loses the (limited) family fortune in a poorly chosen investment. Agnes undertakes to become a governess in the aftermath of this disaster, seconded as it is by her father’s illness and decline, and thus be able to contribute directly to her impoverished family.

Agnes Grey is a sobering examination of the difficulties experienced in finding and keeping employment by then-marginalised members of society; limited to less desirable prospects, Agnes faces challenges in each of her positions in the form of strict limits of authority placed upon her by the parents, and the disrespect of her students. One cannot help but feel that this is not aided by her lack of any formal training as a teacher, a commonality amongst governesses of the period.  

Contrary to her hopes when seeking employment, the children themselves are often more awful than the parents. In her first placement, the spoilt children (particularly the young master) find great enjoyment in snaring and torturing animals; when Agnes is forced to crush a nest full of fledglings under a large stone to stop the boy from torturing them to death, his uncle objects, claiming the activities of the boy to be simple unrestrained exuberance of spirit: “Damme, but the lad has some spunk in him, too. Curse me, if ever I saw a nobler little scoundrel than that. He’s beyond petticoat government already: by God! He defies mother, granny, governess and all! Ha, Ha, Ha!” – and promises to find the boy another nest of young birds to dismember. Agnes promises to destroy them first, if such a thing should occur.

Her subsequent placement is not much better; put in charge of four children, all of whom have been allowed from birth to terrorise their servants and carers, she is forbidden from visiting any discipline upon them, or from bothering their parents with issues, and subsequently finds them difficult to impart any knowledge to.

One of the young boys, John Murray, is finally packed off to boarding school, having been a person “boisterous, unruly, unprincipled, untaught, unteachable—at least, for a governess under his mother’s eye.” His lack of schooling quickly becomes obvious. “…(A)nd this, doubtless, would all be laid to the account of his education having been entrusted to an ignorant female teacher, who had presumed to take in hand what she was wholly incompetent to perform.” It is a little difficult to disagree with this sentiment; while well-read and motivated, Agnes is not much older than her students, and has limited practical experience.

His younger brother is not much better a personality, and the two girls, Misses Rosalie and Matilda, are just as difficult in their own ways. Rosalie, being attractive, has been groomed by her mother to make as good a marriage as possible, as early as possible. Personality and emotional attachment do not merit consideration to the girl; she seeks only titles and wealth, and the opportunity to break the hearts of poorer suitors along the way: “Oh, it provokes me so! To think that I could be such a fool as to fall in love! It is quite beneath the dignity of a woman to do such a thing. Love! I detest the word! As applied to one of our sex, I think it a perfect insult.” She obtains all her wishes, and ends up unhappily married to a rich older man whom she cannot stand, at war with her mother-in-law, and confined to the country estate, so that she cannot cause her husband a scandal.

The other Murray girl, Matilda, is described as a “veritable hoyden, of whom little need be said.” Preoccupied with horses, dogs swearing and running about with the boys, it is apparent that her undesirability in any sense was derived from her lack of interest in ladylike manners and modesty. “‘Tilly, though she would have made  fine lad, was not quite what a young lady ought to be.” A large amount of Agnes’ teaching in the Murray family appears to comprise of unpleasant rote lessons (Matilda), completing the bulk of their endeavours for them (Rosalie) and enduring the lectures of their mother as to how a governess should properly act.

Agnes accompanies the young Murray ladies when they pay visits to the poor farmers’ homes, to disseminate limited largesse amidst a spray of patronisation; their real opinions on the peasants? Rosalie “wondered why the stupid people couldn’t keep in their houses; she was sure she didn’t want to see their ugly faces, and dirty, vulgar clothes.”

Throughout the novel, Agnes finds consolation in her faith. She is deeply religious, but seeks to live by example, and is not loudly demonstrative in her beliefs, an intriguing contrast to Miss Clacks, the proselytizing terror of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. Similar to The Moonstone, the patronising attitudes of those better off towards their social and economic inferiors is marked. In her position as governess to the Murrays, Agnes accompanies them on their visits to poor farmers’ homes to disseminate limited material aid amidst a spray of patronising advice. Despite this,  she makes friends with an unwell farmer’s widow named Nancy Brown, who is prone to deep fits of depression and crises of faith. The unfortunate woman’s application to Mr. Hatfield the Rector for help is met with a brief, brusque order to go to church more frequently, and to take solace in her cleaning duties.

 

The novel is often dreary, treading regularly on the themes of loneliness and moral dissipation. Agnes’ store of happiness in the end is limited to the appropriate-for-young-ladies trope of ‘Fall in love and get married to a parish priest that Mother approves of. Also, God and Modesty.’

 

“…I was lonely. Never, from month to month, form year to year, except during my brief intervals of rest and home, did I see one creature to whom I could open my heart, or freely speak my thoughts with any hope of sympathy, or even comprehension.”

 

 

K.L gives Agnes Grey 2.5 out of 5 terriers romping on the seashore. Well, imagine two of them romping. Try not to imagine half a terrier romping, on the seashore or anywhere else. It will make you feel just as sad as if you’d read Agnes Grey

 

“Already, I seemed to feel my intellect deteriorating, my heart petrifying, my soul contracting; and I trembled lest my very moral perceptions should become deadened, and all my better faculties be sunk, at last, beneath the baneful influence of such a mode of life.”

 

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man

A brilliant novel, in the sink-or-swim school of storytelling (a lack of exposition akin to Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series), which I find invigorating. Don’t let that description daunt you: the explanations will come, in time, unfolding organically from the subject matter of character interactions. The Female Man stretches across four parallel worlds, and the lives of four women living within them. When Janet Evason, ambassador of Whileaway, begins crossing between the worlds, comparing the varying gender roles and experiences of the different women cause them each to reevaluate their own lives, and their implicit notions of what it means to be a “woman” (a person, really).

A Quick Primer on the Four J’s:

  1. Joanna – lives in a world similar to that of the 1970’s Western culture.
  2. Jeannine Dadier – lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended.
  3. Janet Evason – lives in Whileaway, a high-tech utopian-agrarian society of the far future, where all men have been dead for nearly a millennia following a devastating plague. The inhabitants have mastered parthenogenesis.
  4. Jael – an employee of the Bureau of Comparative Ethnology, which studies parallel universes and people’s counterparts throughout them.

The novel opens as Janet suddenly arrives in Jeannine Dadier’s world – a grim place where the Second World War never took place, and the Great Depression is still ongoing. Janet takes Jeannine with her to Joanna’s 70’s-era Earth type world; they are all a little in awe of Janet, who is as capable and forthright as the men they have been taught to admire, but not to emulate. She also distresses them, by behaving in outlandish ways, and failing to adhere to the social niceties of their cultures.

Eventually we discover that the three women have been brought together by Jael, who declares that the four J’s are the same woman, but in differing universes. Jael’s world is in the midst of a 40-year-long war between male and female societies; it becomes apparent that she is an assassin, and her chief aim in uniting the women is to create power bases in each of their worlds to continue the fight between genders across the universes.

 

The novel is a confusing mish-mash of the four characters’ stories, some occurring while in company with the other J’s, others taking place in the past, or whilst alone in their worlds. The reader is whirled from one place to another, with the suffocating dysphoria of Jeannine’s Great Depression society a threatening undertone which maintains suspense.

The idyllic life on Whileaway – spent in hard agrarian labour in a high-tech world, pausing for five years after turning thirty in which to give birth and pursue one’s own interests for the first time since childhood – becomes a paradise the reader longs to read more of, if only to escape from Jeannine’s dreariness, Jael’s ruthless cynicism and Joanna’s personal conflict. Whileaway is not only interesting as a vignette: the existence of a successful and highly functional female society addressed Russ’ desire to create a world where the female human being exists as the measure of humanity itself, as opposed to being the exception (as expressed by Simone de Beavoir, the female is often the insufficient and mysterious Other in a masculine-centered universe).

 

Overall, I believe The Female Man to be an examination of how people deal with conflict, and the manipulation that societies and cultures use to force obedience. It is also incredibly entertaining, and an invaluable read for anyone who has been told that they cannot act a certain way, or be a certain person, because of who they are. It is infuriating, invigorating and cathartic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough – just stick to it, through the initial confusion. You will be rewarded.

“If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for ‘bringing it up’. He may invalidate her experience. This can be done more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: ‘It’s all in your imagination.’ Further still, he can invalidate the content: ‘It never happened that way.’ Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality, and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual.”

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

 

K.L gives The Female Man 5 out of 5 dimension-hopping genius farmers.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“When Laura tried to find out who she was, they told her she was ‘different’ and that’s a hell of a description on which to base your life; it comes down to either ‘Not-me’ or ‘Convenient-for me’ and what is one supposed to do with that?”

I was sitting in the lunchroom at work, reading The Female Man: specifically, the section about Laura’s inexpert seduction of Janet Evason (who sees it coming and really, really tries to be good, the age difference being a taboo on her planet, but not enough of one to stop her), after the running dialogue/recollections of her life, all the social injustice of it, the man-centric, Depression Era rot, where woman is an appendage, not a person…

…And this phrase grew like a soap-bubble and burst, setting my brain spinning while I sat at the table, trying not to stare light-headedly at my coworker Sue, who was by chance sitting opposite and would not understand if I were to try and explain it to her. The phrase was:

We all deserve to be people.

What inspired this soap bubble of thought? In answer, I must paraphrase a character’s declaration in The Female Man, which reads, “When I act like a person, people ask me, ‘Why are you being so emotional?’ ”

 

A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Image

Has anyone watched the Shirley Temple movie by the same name? I have dim recollections of it, and following my recent read of the novel, an increased desire to see it again. In A Little Princess, Sara is sent over to England from her birth-country of India by her widower father, the wealthy Captain Crewe. Enrolled in a highly-selective private school for girls of all ages, Sara is treated to all the excesses of privilege that her father’s substantial fortune can afford – until he errs in funding an old school friend’s attempt to start a diamond mine, and falls first into bankruptcy, thereafter into sickness and death.

Sara learns that she has become a pauper when the unlovable Miss Minchin, the headmistress who privately envies her inscrutable, creative, first-class student, brings the girl’s eleventh birthday festivities to a crashing halt with the news that she is both penniless, and an orphan. Due to the bad press which throwing the girl onto the streets might incur, Miss Minchin keeps Sara on in reduced circumstances, as an overworked and underfed drab, running errands and tutoring the younger students.

The character of Sara is enjoyable to read: she is imaginative, gravely thoughtful and rises above the petty politicking of her environment, whilst still carrying on a rich inner life full of the real and reasonable emotions of a child caught in misfortune. Her inevitable rise from obscurity is a much-anticipated, enjoyable event, with a ripe sense of things coming full circle. All of the female characters in the novel are fully realised and capable human beings, which I was both pleased and surprised to observe in a book of its time period; possibly this is due to the relative dearth of male characters for most of the novel. There are no female puppets in the story.

 

There were a few points which detracted from my enjoyment of the story – these are so clearly the relatively minor sufferings of a privileged member of society, when seen against the backdrop of the homeless, starving poor in Industrial-era London – that I couldn’t quite empathize with Sara. She still had a roof over her head, could work for food and had the prospect of becoming an underpaid teacher in the school when she grew up. Despite how unpleasant this is described as being, she still had prospects, more than many people had.

I must confess to disappointment in the treatment of other, more unfortunate children in the story, such as Becky, a street-waif turned scullery-maid in the school. When the mysterious ‘Indian Gentleman’ (a white man who lived in India; he is not Indian himself) moves into the building next door, Sara makes friends with his Indian manservant following the escape of a monkey. The manservant reports on her sad existence in the attic to his employer, who feels a deep sympathy for the child’s suffering. Over the course of a night, some of the servants transform her leaky, cold attic into a haven of warmth, comfort and luxury. Sleeping on the other side of the thin wall, Becky’s room, which is just as miserable, and which has been occupied for longer, is untouched. She inherits Sara’s old pillow and blanket, and considers herself in the lap of luxury; possibly this was added by the author to imply that it didn’t matter that Becky did not receive the same largesse, as she clearly lacked the ability to appreciate such things from her underprivileged background. At the end of the story, when Sara’s fortunes are reversed and she becomes a millionaire heiress, her magnanimous gesture towards her former co-drudge and ally is to elevate Becky to the status of Sara’s personal ladies’-maid.

Sara has just become a millionaire and half-owner of a diamond mine, mind you, in pre-war Britain. And the best thing she can think to do for Becky is to offer her work as a maid. Not an education: a job, with few future prospects, which depends upon Becky’s ability to remain agreeable and subservient. A little embittering, though, of course, she is thrilled with her ‘levelling up’ in the game of life.

 

In summary, I definitely enjoyed A Little Princess and would read it again, but certain elements within it are a little disappointing, and show it to be a somewhat classist product of its time (back in the ancient prehistory of…1905? Sigh).

 

‘ Sometimes, when she was in the midst of some harsh, domineering speech, Miss Minchin would find the still, unchildish eyes fixed upon her with something like a proud smile in them. At such times she did not know that Sara was saying to herself:

“You don’t know that you are saying these things to a princess, and that if I chose I could wave my hand and order you to execution. I only spare you because I am a princess, and your are a poor, stupid, unkind, vulgar old thing, and don’t know any better.” ’

 

 

K.L. Gives A Little Princess 3 out of 5 diamond encrusted monkeys.