May 12, 2023

#08-310: Little Lord Fauntleroy

Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy,
painted by William Merritt Chase (Wikiart)

Note: To a certain generation of Americans, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" inspired a way of dress; for the next, he inspired ridicule.

Get Ready: Is there a past fad in clothing or hairstyle that today is commonly made fun of?

When I was a kid, we sometimes had to dress up for a special school event, or some event at church. My mom would parade us in front of my dad and he'd say teasingly, "Well, if it isn't Little Lord Fauntleroy."

I had no idea what he was talking about.

It turns out he was referring to a character in a very popular book of the 19th century. In 1885-1886, the British-American children's author Frances Hodgson Burnett--who later wrote The Secret Garden--published Little Lord Fauntleroy, first serialized in a popular children's magazine and then printed as a book.

The main character was a poor boy named Cedric Errol who lived in a New York slum with his mother, whom he called "Dearest." He learns that his English grandfather--who rejected his late father because he married an American--wants him to come to England to become heir to his estate. Poor little Cedric is now "Lord Fauntleroy."

The grandfather ("The Earl") is impressed by young Cedric's appearance and intelligence, and is charmed by his innocence, but continues to reject his mother, simply for being American. The Earl has not been a kind man, but influenced by the boy, he becomes better. When the tenants on his estate thank him, he says their benefactor is not he, but the child, Lord Fauntleroy.

There is a subplot in which an awful woman puts up a claimant to Cedric's inheritance, saying he is the true son of the Earl's eldest son. Friends from America arrive in England and expose the scheme, and the Earl now sees Cedric's mother as superior compared to the impostor.

So instead of the Earl teaching his grandson to be an aristocrat, the boy teaches his grandfather the importance of compassion.

Now, about my dad: Burnett described the boy (and the illustrator of the book showed him) as wearing a fancy little suit once he became a lord: a black velvet suit with a cut-away jacket and matching knee pants, worn with a fancy blouse and a large lace or ruffled collar. It created a fad for formal dress for American middle-class children.

Dad was born many years later, but still, any over-dressed kid was taunted as "Little Lord Fauntleroy." And so was I.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. claimant
  2. compassion
  3. cut-away
  4. fad
  5. impostor
  6. ruffled
  7. serialized
  8. slum
  9. taunted
  10. tenants

  1. a hot trend
  2. kindness
  3. a fancy way to decorate clothing
  4. printed in sections over time
  5. teased; mocked
  6. a crowded, run-down, poor part of a city
  7. a formal coat with "tails"
  8. people who rent from a landlord
  9. someone who claims to be something he's not
  10. a person who says something is rightly his when it's not

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 12, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. b; 3. g; 4. a; 5. i; 6. c; 7. d; 8. f; 9. e; 10. h