Monday, November 23, 2009

Princess in Progress

My favorite book? I'm glad you asked. My favorite book of all time is, hands down, A Little Princess.

But, Chelsea, that's a children's book! Isn't there something more... well... sophisticated?

Of course. I also love The Scarlett Pimpernell, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Wheel of Time, and Jane Eyre. Delightful stories, all. Well, maybe Dorian Gray is not really a delightful story, but it is fantastically well-written.

Here's the basic plot of A Little Princess: A little rich girl gets sent to a boarding school in England by her father who loves her very much and wants to get her out of the Indian air which is supposedly bad for children. While she is there, she is spoiled and pampered by all things money can buy. However, she is a very smart girl who excels at her studies regardless of the treatment. She gets word on her birthday that her father has died, and, for political reasons, the owner of the boarding house turns her into a scullery maid. She is insulted, starved, and worked almost to death. A few years later, an old gentleman next door takes pity on her and improves her life. It turns out that he is actually looking for her, though he didn't realize she was the one he sought. He was friends with her father and took control of the fortune that should have been Sara's. Once he realizes who he has been silently benefacting, he takes her in and restores to her what was rightfully hers.

So why do I like it so? Sara Crewe herself is the reason I like it. She is true to herself, to the best of herself, in any circumstance. When she is spoiled and pampered, she is kind and generous. She works hard. She wonders and imagines what it would be like to be poor and to have a difficult life. She sets herself apart, not because of her riches, but because of who she is. Her riches complement her personality, rather than the other way around. When she is a poor, starving servant girl, she again rises to the best that is in her. She is unfailingly polite, and kind, and instead turns her imagination to a higher purpose. Rather than imagining that she still has money, she imagines that she is a princess. And in her mind, being a princess means acting out of the best that is in her. She would not give in to her temper; she would not wallow in self-pity. She would give all that she has to give, even when all she has is a quiet "please" and "thank-you" for the crust of bread she is given for dinner.

I have always admired that sort of unfailing optimism, and commitment to goodness, and the view that things can always be made better by one's own thinking.

Would that I, too, can be such a Princess.

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