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First edition cover
|Author||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
First edition cover
|Author||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
Little Lord Fauntleroy is the first children's novel written by English playwright and author Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was originally published as a serial in the St. Nicholas Magazine between November 1885 and October 1886, then as a book by Scribner's in 1886. The accompanying illustrations by Reginald Birch set fashion trends and Little Lord Fauntleroy also set a precedent in copyright law when in 1888 its author won a lawsuit against E. V. Seebohm over the rights to theatrical adaptations of the work.
In a shabby New York side street in the mid-1880s, young Cedric Errol lives with his mother (known only as Mrs. Errol or "Dearest") in genteel poverty after the death of his father, Captain Cedric Errol. One day, they are visited by an English lawyer named Haversham with a message from Cedric's grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt. With the deaths of his father's elder brothers, Cedric has now inherited the title Lord Fauntleroy and is the heir to the Earldom and a vast estate. Cedric's grandfather wants him to live in England and be educated as an English aristocrat. The Earl despises America and is deeply disappointed with Cedric's father, his favourite son, for marrying an American. He offers his son's widow a house and guaranteed income, but he refuses to have anything to do with her, even after she declines his money.
However, the Earl is impressed by the appearance and intelligence of his American grandson, and is charmed by his innocent nature. Cedric believes his grandfather to be an honorable man and benefactor, and the Earl cannot disappoint him. He therefore becomes a benefactor to his tenants, to their delight.
A pretender to Cedric's inheritance appears, his mother claiming that he is the son of the Earl's eldest son. However, the claim is investigated and proven by Cedric's loyal friends in New York, one of whom – a bootblack– recognises the woman as the missing wife of his brother and the alleged heir as his own nephew. The Earl is reconciled to his American daughter-in-law, realising that she is far superior to the imposter.
The Earl planned to teach his grandson how to be an aristocrat. Instead, Cedric teaches his grandfather that an aristocrat should practice compassion towards those dependent on him. He becomes the man Cedric always innocently believed him to be. Cedric's mother is invited by the Earl to live in the ancestral castle, and Cedric's old friend Mr. Hobbs, the New York City grocer, who came to England to help investigate the false claim, decides to stay to help look after Cedric.
The Fauntleroy suit, so well-described by Burnett and realised in Reginald Birch's detailed pen-and-ink drawings, created a fad for formal dress for American middle-class children:
The Fauntleroy suit appeared in Europe as well, but nowhere was it as popular as in America. The classic Fauntleroy suit was a velvet cut-away jacket and matching knee pants worn with a fancy blouse with a large lace or ruffled collar. These suits appear right after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's story (1885) and were a major fashion until after the turn of the 20th century. Many boys who did not wear an actual Fauntleroy suit wore suits with Fauntleroy elements such as a fancy blouse or floppy bow. Only a minority of boys wore ringlet curls with these suits, but the photographic record confirms that many boys did. It was most popular for boys about 3–8 years of age, but some older boys wore them as well. It has been speculated that the popularity of the style encouraged many mothers to breech their boys earlier than before and was a factor in the decline of the fashion of dressing small boys in dresses and other skirted garments. Clothing Burnett popularised was modelled on the costumes she tailored herself for her two sons, Vivian and Lionel.
Polly Hovarth writes that Little Lord Fauntleroy "was the Harry Potter of his time and Frances Hodgson Burnett was as celebrated for creating him as J.K. Rowling is for Potter." During the serialisation in St. Nicholas magazine, readers looked forward to new instalments. The fashions in the book became popular with velvet Lord Fauntleroy suits being sold, as well as other Fauntleroy merchandise such as velvet collars, playing cards, and chocolates. During a period when sentimental fiction was the norm, and in the United States the "rags to riches" story popular, Little Lord Fauntleroy was a hit.
Gerald could always make himself look interesting at a moment's notice (...) by opening his grey eyes rather wide, allowing the corners of his mouth to droop, and assuming a gentle, pleading expression, resembling that of the late little Lord Fauntleroy who must, by the way, be quite old now, and an awful prig.
There have been several movie versions of the book produced over many years:
Little Lord Fauntleroy
Original Cast, Broadway Theatre, New York, 10 December 1888.
Earl of Dorincourt – J. H. Gilmore
Cedric Errol (Lord Fauntleroy) – Elsie Leslie and Tommy Russell
Mr. Havisham, a Solicitor – F. F. Mackay
Mr. Hobbs, a Grocer – George A. Parkhurst
Dick, a Bootblack – Frank E. Lamb
Higgens, a Farmer – John Swinburne
Wilkins, a Groom – Alfred Klein
Thomas, a Footman – John Sutherland
James, a Servant – T. J. Plunkett
Mrs. Errol ("Dearest") – Kathryn Kidder
Mina – Alice Fischer
Mary – Effie Germon
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