Sara Crewe was seven when her rich, indulgent father took her to Miss Minchin's school for girls; she remained there, in London, and he returned to India, where Sara had lived her entire life. And then the news came that her father had invested in diamond mines when there were none to be found, and then died of jungle fever, leaving Sara orphaned and penniless. Her world, which was all silk and ermine and the very best of everything, changes in a flash. She's made a servant, an errand girl who might go days without a meal and who sleeps in a dreary, lifeless attic room.
I think that this was a reread, but I can't be sure. The story is certainly familiar, but I have very distinct memories of checking a movie adapted from this book out of the library many, many times as a child. I think I would have read it, because I loved the movie and was a child who loved books and who also loved The Secret Garden madly. Anyhow, I would've read it a long time ago, and there were certainly things I didn't remember.
Now that I have read it as an adult, I don't know what to think, honestly. It's interesting how little culture shock there is for Sara immediately, and then...I can't get over the class issues. And the...entitlement. Not of Sara, but of the author on Sara's behalf. She's naturally smart, and other, stupid children are to be pitied, but not necessarily encouraged. Sara's naturally kind and selfless and good, and other children are spoiled by far fewer riches, but that's just how it is, it's not anything Sara worked at, or that she was even taught. Sara is imaginative and an excellent storyteller, and people are drawn to her and want to be kind to her because of those--again, natural, seemingly genetic talents.
Sara's abrupt change of fortune should have redeemed her. She worked hard and was of good temper and didn't feel sorry for herself, even though her life was pretty miserable; but all of that was very clearly still an accident of nature.
And my biggest problem: Becky. Poor, poor Becky. A scullery maid, poorly paid, poorly housed, poorly fed, poorly educated. And she became excellent friends with Sara, and lived in the attic room next to Sara. But when the Indian gentleman began giving Sara gifts, he gave them only to Sara, despite the fact that she and Becky had very similar situations. It even says somewhere that he could tell that Sara seemed of a higher class, and that's why he paid attention to her. He does nothing for Becky, except for providing a second place setting for her at Sara's table. And when everything is resolved and Sara goes to live with him, Becky also goes...but as a maid. She's Sara's best friend, never called stupid (as Ermengarde is, often) and so she must be capable of being educated, and yet. She goes to live with Sara as Sara's servant, and it's regarded as excellent fortune for her.
There is no luck, in this book. The entire book reads as if certain people are born to certain situations, and that's where they ought to stay. Perhaps they should be well-fed and well treated, but some people are just better and more dserving of luxury than others. And when something happens to upset the social order, it is, eventually, righted and then some. It's not quite the message one wants to send to children, nowadays.
But, there is magic, here. The idea of waking up to a changed world, like Sara did after Ram Dass's first nocturnal escapade, is a captivating one. The scene with the beggar child and the buns is warm and sentimental. The descriptions of the Large-Montmorency-Carmichael family make you hungry to be a part of them. Maybe I loved this story too young to be objective about it, but even with all the problems I see, it still makes me see stars.