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Problematic Favorites: A Little Princess - Part 12 "Your Daddy is not a businessman"

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 08:00

This post originally appeared on my LiveJournal in this entry, which may include a lively discussion in the comments.

A milestone: one of my tweets about last week's Little Princess blog picked up a troll! Not a very amusing one; it's only the fact of it that's amusing.

The last part of Chapter 6 brings strong foreshadowing of disaster, and provides some useful data regarding the source and nature of Captain Crewe's money. In an earlier entry, I already noted that Crewe's occupation as an army officer seems unlikely to have been the source of his wealth, and now it's confirmed that if it came from his parents being wildly successful in business, he inherited none of their talents in that direction.

As he writes to Sara, there are financial problems with the diamond mines, but "your daddy is not a businessman at all, and figures and documents bother him. He does not really understand them, and all this seems so enormous." Now, allowing for some hyperbole when writing to an eleven-year-old girl, we can easily see how precarious the family fortunes have always been. Crewe spends money extravagantly, admits he has no business sense, and invests what turns out to be his entire fortune in a risky speculation on nothing but the word of a boyhood friend. While Sara certainly doesn't deserve to become destitute, one can't help concluding that perhaps Captain Crewe does deserve it. And yet, in the midst of these financial troubles, he arranges for an extravagant party for Sara's 11th birthday, including a number of expensive presents, for which Miss Minchin is expected to front the money. He knew he was in financial difficulties and he went ahead and asked Miss Minchin to front a large sum for a non-essential purpose.

It's details like this that allow for at least some sympathy in Miss Minchin's response to the impending disaster. It isn't fair of her to take out her anger and disappointment on Sara, but it isn't as if she can take them out on Crewe himself. He will have conveniently died. Touching back to the "moral accounting" theme, the financial disaster is "earned" by Crewe (although not deserved by Sara).

The chapter ends up with another episode showing the special friendship between Sara and Becky. Sara's school-fellows will be delighted to share in enjoying Sara's birthday presents, but Becky is the only one of the girls who thinks to actually give Sara a present herself: a pincushion made with her own hands, from scraps and remnants. And Sara responds to both the thought and the effort with gratitude and love, somewhat to Becky's startlement. "It ain't good enough for that!" she says, but I think we know better. As I mentioned in an earlier installment, Becky is the only one of the girls that gives back to Sara rather than only taking. I don't think Sara would characterize it that way--after her fall, she certainly values the willingness of Ermingard and Lottie to continue associating with her. But that's a more passive support than what Becky will give.

In many ways, Becky's "moral accounting" arc is as strong as Sara's, which is why the difference in their eventual rewards will seem a bit unfair. But I get ahead of myself.