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Problematic Favorites: A Little Princess - Part 18

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 21:26

Sorry about missing posting this yesterday. (Well, technically I missed writing it.) It's be a hectic week at work, and I haven't quite gotten into the rhythm of the new posting process yet. So you're getting the Princess Re-Read in place of a Random Thursday.

The second part of Chapter 8 (In The Attic) briefly touches on Becky's very practical support for Sara, which consists of giving her advice on how to behave in her new position (by the tactful means of explaining what her own behavior means: "Someone would be down on us if I did [say please and thank you]." Becky takes a few moments each day to help Sara dress and undress. It's an interesting echo of Mary Lennox's experience in The Secret Garden. Both Sara and Mary are accustomed to being assisted in dressing by servants. But while Sara's transition to doing for herself is eased by Becky's eagerness to play lady's maid, Mary is ridiculed for expecting someone else to help dress her.

Mind you, Mary is very much in need of some shock therapy to get her rebellious spirit working in productive ways. But I find the parallels between the two characters fascinating. Both come from financially priviledged British colonial families in India. Both lose their parents abruptly. (And although Mary didn't lose her mother at birth, in an emotional sense, she might as well have.) While both girls might be considered dreadfully spoiled, Sara has emerged with a happy and helpful disposition, while Mary is self-centered, rude, and exploitive of anyone she has power over. If we are to identify a cause of this, it would be that Sara was loved and knew she was loved, while Mary knew herself to be not only unloved, but essentially forgotten.

But we were talking about Sara. The majority of the rest of the chapter involves Sara's rapprochement with Ermengarde. Somewhat conveniently for the plot flow, Ermengade was temporarily taken out of the picture for family reasons just after the tragic birthday party. So by the time they see each other again, Sara has settled into her new life of service, and has gotten used to the expectation that she will no longer interact with the students as an equal. Her diffidence sends Ermengarde into awkward confusion when they next meet and Sara shows one of her few flashes of mean-spiritedness: she snaps at her friend's rather tactless question and drives her away. One expects that there's a bit of pre-rejection going on, so that Sara doesn't have to deal with Ermengarde snubbing her.

But Sara's friendship is so important to Ermengarde that she risks another rejection by going up to Sara's attic room to plead for forgiveness. It never, in any of her dealings with Sara, occurs to Ermengarde that her demands for continued friendship put Sara at a great deal of risk. Their relationship continues much as before, with Ermengarde gaining emotional and academic support, but now Sara does get something in return: she has one continuing relationship with someone who treats her as a social equal. (Becky doesn't treat her as an equal--Becky always and ever treats Sara as her superior.)

And Ermengarde gives Sara one more thing: she re-awakens Sara's imagination, transforming the garret into a cell in the Bastile or the Count of Monte Cristo's dungeon in the Chateau d'If. These transformations (and others) will enable Sara to manipulate her relationship with her environment and to re-negotiate her relations with the Minchin sisters, at least in her own mind.

historical