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Problematic Favorites: A Little Princess – Part 32 The Magic Breaks Through

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 20:10

I have this image, in the weeks following the transformation of Sara’s attic, of Sara’s life splitting into a dual image: the magical, comfortable, secret life she shares with Becky “after hours”, and the continuance of the ostensibly miserable, down-trodden life she lives “downstairs”. The physical conditions of her labor remain identical, but it’s as if her spirit now floats above it all, knowing that a magical world is waiting for her, close at hand.

And people notice her floating spirit. Miss Amelia is moved to remark on how she no longer looks like she’s starving, drawing a rebuke from her domineering sister. This foreshadows Amelia’s more extreme challenge to Miss Minchin later, though it must be said that Amelia’s sympathy for Sara never rises to the level of action. Miss Minchin herself sees Sara’s new lighter spirit as an intensification of her “defiance”, though it no longer stems from a deliberate choice to rise above her circumstances, but simply spills over.

The Magician (as the unknown benefactor is called), having crammed the attic room to overflowing with little luxuries, ornaments, and accessories, turns his hand to the more practical question of clothing. (One can’t exactly say that the initial focus on food and heat was “impratical”, but certainly a lot of the continuing additions are more to feed the sould than the body.) This finally breaks the secret open, to some extent, because while food and heat and books can be consumed in secret, the new dress and shoes and warm coat and whatnot could hardly be concealed from the school management even if they hadn’t been delivered to the front door addressed to “the little girl in the righthand attic.”

Miss Minchin is nothing if not practical. Instantaneously, at this tangible sign that there is someone out there in the world know cares about Sara’s welfare, she returns Sara to the status of full human being, dismissing her chores and instructing her to return to the classroom as a student. (Though not moving her out of the attic!)

And for Sara, this more practical, tangible gift spurs her to go beyond simply accepting the Magic and to communicate back to the Magician to express her thanks. After all, someone must come and go in the attic to bring new things and take away the used dishes. So she leaves a letter to be found by that mysterious agent. And--in one of those almost-too-convenient twists that keeps the suspense of her identity for the Grand Reveal--she signs it with her assigned identity, “The Little Girl in the Attic.”


Whether anything would have come from this communication on its own, we can only speculate. Because before any answer might come in response, she is once more visited by the Indian Gentleman’s monkey, escaped over the roof late at night. Too late to be returned at once, so she makes the monkey comfortable for the night and resolves to return it the next day. The day when, purely coincidentally, Mr. Carmichael will happen to return from his vain quest in Moscow...