Sunday, May 27, 2018

Frances Hodgson Burnett - Little Lord Fauntleroy

Frances Burnett, part of a photograph
by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-1896)
Frances Hodgson Burnett was a British novelist who lived from 1849 to 1924. Her family emegrated to the USA in 1865, she married twice, had two children and is best known for her children's books.

One of them is Little Lord Fauntleroy, best known from the all-time favourite family film from 1980 by Jack Gold, starring Alec Guinness as a main actor.

The film stays very close to the novel - so if you've known the film first you can see the scenes and hear the characters voices in your head while reading!
The story begins in New York where a British lawyer one day seeks out 7-year-old Cedric Errol and his mother to tell them that Cedric is the remaining heir of the Earl of Dorincourt. The child has to leave his best friends - bootblack Dick and greengrocer Mr- Hobbs - behind and travels to England to meet his grandfather. The grumbly bitter old man is determined to hate this American boy and his mother because he hadn't wanted his son to marry her in the first place. But the Little Lord soon changes his mind...

At its time the novel was a huge success and very popular, Cedric was a well-known character and even influenced fashion. Read today, the characters all seem to be exaggerated, overdone. Cedric is to good to be true, sickly-sweet and without flaw. So is his mother. In length the reader gets to know about the dark, unjust and moody old Earl - only to see him overturned in a few pages by the sweet character of the child. Unbelievable and very predictable from the first page on. Of course, it's a fairy tale, a children's story - good has to conquer the bad! And it is done beautifully in Little Lord Fauntleroy, helping poor people, being righteous, being kind. In fact, this message of kindness is one that we can still use today.
There are some problematic aspects of the novel: Considering Burnetts background as a female writer at the time and her knowledge of British and American society one would have wished for some more interesting views on aristocracy and the political systems. Instead, the main political critic Mr. Hobbs is transformed into a fan of aristrocratic society and never returns to the USA. But again, it's a children's book and one might still enjoy this positive and kind story today.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Public domain, kindle edition 2012. 

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