Goodreads: Little Lord Fauntleroy
Seven-year-old Cedric Errol learns one day that his uncles have died and he is now the heir to the Earl of Dorincourt–all the way in England! His grandfather the earl is really a crotchety old man. But can the new little Lord Fauntleroy’s sweet nature transform him?
When Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book Little Lord Fauntleroy was published from 1885-1886, it was an astounding success. The rags-to-riches story of a young boy living in New York who moves to England to be trained as the heir to an earl was indeed so popular that mothers dressed their little boys in the same type of suit worn by Fauntleroy in the novel. However, the sentimental novel has fallen somewhat out of fashion and, these days, most mentions of Burnett associate her with two of her other works: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Still, Little Lord Fauntleroy has its charms. Readers who enjoy an old-fashioned tale that relies heavily on emotions may find themselves inadvertently drawn into little Cedric’s story, despite their best efforts to be above a book some might call “saccharine.”
Even though the sentimental novel has come in for its fair share of ridicule these days, I must admit that I still love the form. Little Lord Fauntleroy is a very charming example of it. Seven-year-old Cedric Errol is the “perfect” little boy–strong, handsome, and golden-haired, and possessed of the ability to find everyone interesting and to make everyone love him. Through his sheer sweet goodness he manages to transform his crotchety old grandfather from a tyrant earl who thinks only of himself to one who might, one day, actually be beloved by the poor tenants who used to hate and fear him. Simply by seeing goodness in the earl, Cedric puts it there. I understand that many a contemporary reader might find this unbelievable, even if they do not also feel some compulsion to gag over how “goody-goody” Fauntleroy is. But not me. I apparently have the tastes of a nineteenth-century audience.
There is just something incredibly soothing about the story. It feels comforting to read a book where the good and the kind are rewarded, and where even the wicked are capable of redemption. Yes, Burnett preaches a bit here and there, extolling the virtues of her young hero and his sweet, silver-toned mother–the epitome of perfect femininity of her time. But modern books do much the same–we simply have different values that we like to teach our children. And, really, lessons about thinking of others and helping the less fortunate are not to be despised. Why not read an uplifting story where good things happen to good people? Sometimes we all need reassurance that the world is not so bleak, after all.
Little Lord Fauntleroy may admittedly be an acquired taste. I can easily imagine many contemporary readers being turned off by how sweet the titular character is, and how he can do no wrong. To me, however, the book is a comfort read, a safe place to go where rags-to-riches stories are real and kindness really does change the world. It’s a book with a happy ending and that is nothing to sneer at.