Captain Richard Crewe, a wealthy English widower, has been raising his only child, Sara, in India where he is stationed with the British Army.
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Captain Richard Crewe, a wealthy English widower, has been raising his only child, Sara, in India where he is stationed with the British Army. Because the Indian climate is considered too harsh for children, British families living there traditionally send their children to boarding school back home in England. The Captain enrolls his seven-year-old daughter at Miss Minchin's boarding school for girls in London, and dotes on his daughter so much that he orders and pays the headmistress for special treatment and exceptional luxuries for Sara, such as a private room for her with a personal maid and a separate sitting room (see Parlour boarder), along with Sara's own private carriage and a pony. Miss Minchin openly fawns over Sara for her money, but secretly and jealously despises her for her wealth.Despite her entitled privilege, Sara is neither selfish nor snobbish but rather kind and gentle. She extends her friendship to Ermengarde St. John, the school dunce; to Charlotte "Lottie", a four-year-old pupil given to tantrums; and to Rebecca "Becky", the lowly, stunted fourteen-year-old scullery maid. When Sara acquires the epithet "Princess", she embraces its favorable elements in her natural kindheartedness.After some time, Sara's eleventh birthday is celebrated at Miss Minchin's with a lavish party, attended by all her friends and classmates. Just as it ends, Miss Minchin learns of Captain Crewe's unfortunate demise due to jungle fever. Furthermore, prior to his death, the previously wealthy captain had lost his entire fortune; a close friend from his schoolboy days had persuaded him to cash in his investments and deposit the proceeds to develop a network of diamond mines. The scheme fails, and the preteen Sara is left an orphan and a pauper, with no other family and nowhere to go. Miss Minchin is left with a sizable unpaid bill for Sara's school fees and luxuries, including her birthday party. Infuriated and pitiless, she takes away all of Sara's possessions (except for some old frocks and doll Emily), makes her live in a cold and poorly furnished attic, and forces her to earn her keep by working as an errand girl. She forces Sara to wear frocks much too short for her, with her thin legs peeking out of the brief skirts.For the next several years, Sara is abused by Miss Minchin and the other servants, except for Becky. Miss Minchin's kind younger sister, Amelia, deplores the way that Sara is treated, but is too weak-willed to speak up about it. Sara is starved, worked for long hours, sent out in all weathers, poorly dressed in outgrown and worn-out clothes, and deprived of warmth or a comfortable bed in the attic.