This post originally appeared on my LiveJournal in this entry, which may include a lively discussion in the comments.
In the second part of Chapter 7, we see the depths of nastiness that the adult characters are capable of. Captain Crewe’s soliciter comes to tell Miss Minchin the news that Crewe has died--and died a pauper after the diamond mines failed. The soliciter does get one rather delicious line in this conversation. In the initial conversation where he is railing against the fantasies spawned by the diamond mines, he notes, “When a man is in the hands of a very dear friend and is not a businessman himself, he had better steer clear of the dear friend’s diamond mines, or gold mines, or any other kind of mines dear friends want his money to put into.” After dropping the bomb that the Captain has died from a combination of jungle fever and business troubles, Miss Minchin asks exactly what the business troubles were. “Diamond mines,” answered Mr. Barrow, “and dear friends--and ruin.”
But the shock of the thought of Crewe’s fortune having evaporated (and Miss Minchin being on the hook for the funds she’d fronted for Sara’s party, as well as ordinary expenses), seems to drive a number of things out of both their minds. It seems implausible to me that neither of them thinks to try to locate someone who will stand in loco parentis for Sara. The soliciter presumably had the means to follow up with Captain Crewe’s military superiors, who might have ideas about what arrangements might be made--even assuming that Sara truly has no remaining living relatives. (Whatever did happen to her mother’s family?) For that matter, he is quite aware of the existence of Captain Crewe's "dear friend" who--though presumably equally bankrupt from the mine debacle--might well be expected to feel some responsibility for Sara (as, indeed, we later see he does), and might very well have relatives of his own in England who could step in and provide assistance.
But even Miss Minchin is aware of Sara having at least one potential sponsor, because she knows that Crewe chose her school on the personal recommendation of Lady Meredith. And there’s a clear indication in Chapter 1 that Miss Minchin had personal correspondence with Lady Meredith regarding Sara’s suitability for the school. So why doesn’t it occur to her to contact Lady Meredith and let her know that her dear friend Captain Crewe’s daughter is now friendless and destitute? At the very least, Sara might be taken off her hands. At the most, Lady Meredith might feel a moral obligation to pay Sara’s debt at the school as well.
This aspect has always troubled me. There is no reason other than plot logistics for Sara to be considered genuinely alone and friendless in the world.
Miss Minchin is so personally affronted by the loss of Sara’s fortune that she leaps to the decision to throw her into the street, rather than considering following up on any of these possibilities. It is noted that this is an indiscreet intention to voice. But the soliciter, rather than chiding her for her hard-heartedness, only points out that it would reflect badly on the school and that it would be more practical to exploit Sara as an unpaid servant. If nothing else, this is one more piece of evidence that Captain Crewe was extremely incompetent in his business decisions. One might think that when he chose an agent to look out for his daughter’s interests in England, he would have chosen someone capable of empathy and compassion.
So Miss Minchin calls her sister in to do the dirty work and devises a way of informing Sara of her father’s death designed for maximum trauma. In this chapter, any sympathy one might have had for Minchin’s position vis a vis her pampered pupil is trampled into the dirt.
It’s left to Becky--who has been hiding under the table while all these conversations have gone on--to think what all this will mean for Sara herself, and to beg for permission to help soften the blow and assist Sara in the transition. And it’s Becky who sees the tragedy as a story arc: “It’s exactly like the ones in the stories--them poor princess ones that was drove into the world.”
Next week, we’ll finish Chapter 7 with Sara’s reaction to the news.