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Thursday, May 1, 2014

The 19th Century: Sara Crewe And Her Dolls-More notes from the Dolls In Literature Series

In the late Victorian era, childhood was sentimentalized and given special attention. Dolls, always reflections of their makers and their societies, began to represent little girls, and baby dolls were more common from the 1850s on. Maezel, who created the metronome, soon created the mechanism for the “mamma” doll, so that toys too became “juvenelized. “ Poor children were given another glance due to poems by The Romantics, and the growing body of sentimental literature written for children, as well as by other adult poets like Burnett, Dickens, Stowe, Kate Douglas Wiggins, E. Nesbit, Kate Douglas Wiggins, Eugene Field, and others. Lithographs of children were sweet and idealized, and poor, unfortunate children were given romantic deaths and sent straight to heaven, as in Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” and to a certain extent, Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Carol in The Birds’ Christmas Carol. Sara’s life reflected contemporary belief in charity towards others, which Sara certainly practiced while she was wealthy, and even when she was poor, towards Ann and Melchisedec. Sara was more mature for her years and her time. She is a composite of Burnett’s own experiences [one is reminded of Joyce and his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man], and early reform movements to improve the lives of children that didn’t involve class preconceptions or prejudices, work that perhaps began with reform of schools like that the Brontë girls attended and Dickens’ literary children, e.g., Tiny Tim. The original story of Sara Crewe was written as a serialized novel in 1888 called Sara Crew or what Happened at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School, published by St. Nicholas Magazine, a periodical popular with children like Helen Keller who themselves later became famous writers. The Book A Little Princess was published in 1905. One of the most famous and appealing editions was illustrated by Tasha Tudor, who was a friend of Rumer Godden and also illustrated The Dolls House. Burnett also wrote a play, The Little Princess, and The Little Un-Fairy Princess, which seem to the basis of the Shirley Temple films. Since the book was published, there have been numerous film, dramatic, and TV adaptations, as well as various editions of the book. ALP, according to one source, may have been inspired by Bronte’s unfinished Emma, but there are also shades of Jane Eyre and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” in the story. As with British writer Rumer Godden, “Burnett did not begin her writing career as a children’s author, yet she seems to have stumbled onto a formula for writing for children that allowed her to be successful” (Resler 15). Some critics have argued that children’s literature gives Burnett “more reign” to show her skills as a story teller (Bixler 54 cited in Resler 15), while others claim children’s literature is less taxing for Burnett to write (Gerzina 119). A. How cruel to take Last Doll, and why not take Emily? Resler notes Sara cannot keep LD because Crew had not paid her bill before his death. “The inclusion and loss of the Last Doll as a character magnifies the importance placed on Sara’s doll Emily and the connection she has with her before and after her father’s death” (Resler 49).

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