Illustrations from Sara Crewe by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1888)

Sara Crewe, or What Happened at Miss Minchin's by Frances Hodgson Burnett

At one of the library sales I frequent in my quest for classics by women authors, I came upon Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This confused me; wasn’t this the story always known as A Little Princess?

It turns out that Sara Crewe is an earlier version of what became the classic. It was serialized in St. Nicholas magazine in 1887, then collected into a novella, published in 1888 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

In 1905, the expanded story was published for all time as we best know it, titled A Little Princess. And since then, the story has been performed on stage, filmed in several versions, and is consistently named one of the top novels for children of all time. 

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Illustration from Sara Crewe, or What Happened at Miss Minchin's

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From Sara Crewe to A Little Princess

Here’s a musing by a reader who was charmed by the book’s expansion, published in The Chicago Tribune on November 4, 1905:

When Frances Hodgson Burnett first wrote Sara Crewe, I had been so heedless as to have already grown up. At least, the physical part of me had, and I had entertained a naïve impression that my mind was the worried, horribly sensible, matter of fact, and tiresome mind of a grown person, too. But this proved a mistake.

It was Sara Crewe that showed me the mistake. I found I was a little girl who could have a lump in my throat or a laugh for which I was in no way responsible, and eyes which nearly bulged out of my head with interest.

I took a number of other children into my confidence and read the story with them, or to them, and found they liked it just as well as I did, though they were really eight or ten, while I was only “pretend” eight or ten.

But even in my enthusiasm I could hardly have supposed that if the tale came to me years later, much elaborated, with a number of new characters in it, that I should find it even more absorbing than before. Such, however, is the case.

Sara Crewe gave the reader far too brief a glimpse into the life of that fascinating young person, but A Little Princess, which is the title of the story retold, takes the reader quite into confidence. The story sheds light upon a number of hitherto insufficiently revealed matters, such as the Indian gentleman, the Lascar, and Becky, the scullery maid.

Mrs. Burnett explains the enlargement of her story to those that need an explanation. Some of the new characters introduced into A Little Princess, she says, were really at Miss Minchin’s famous school all of the time, and she cannot see why they didn’t come out of the story’s shadow.

“People who live in the story one is writing,” Mrs Burnett observes for the benefit of these characters, “ought to come forward at the beginning and tap the writer on the shoulder and say, ‘hello, what about me?’”

Mrs. Burnett discovered all the extra persons — Melchisedic, the rat; Becky the scullery maid; Lottie, the cry baby; and others, when she was preparing Sara Crewe for the stage. Then she put it all down in a book for people who might not make their acquaintance at the theater.

That was nice of her, as all of us children, large and small, agree.

 

Illustrations by Reginald Birch

Following are illustrations by Reginald Birch from Sara Crewe from the 1918 edition published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. It’s curious that the truncated version was still being reprinted at that late date, given what a success it had been in its fleshed out version of A Little Princess. The illustration shown above is also from the same edition of Sara Crewe, and with the three that follow, comprise the only artwork in the book.

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Illustration from Sara Crewe (1888)

“Your father is dead. You have no friends.You have no money.
You have no home and no one to take care of you.”

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Sara Crewe (1888); the indian gentleman

… the Indian gentleman turned and looked at her curiously.

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Sara Crewe (1888) - he drew her small dark head

He drew her small dark head down upon his knee and stroked her hair.
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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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More about Sara Crewe

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