Fiction – audiobook. Read by Donada Peters. Tantor Media, 2008. Originally published 1877. 5 hours, 19 minutes. Library copy.
According to Peters’ introduction to the text, the lace collared suit worn by young Lord Fauntleroy in this children’s novel was so well-described by Burnett and then drawn in Reginald Birch’s accompanying pen and ink illustrations that the “Fauntleroy suit” became the height of fashion for young boys in the era.
This probably had less to do with Burnett’s description of the suit, although it was very easy to imagine even without the illustrations, and more to do with the characteristics of the main character, Cedric Errol, because who wouldn’t want a son who embodies gratitude and humility, charms strangers and crotchety old men alike, and longs to share their wealth with everyone they meet?
Following the death of his remaining son and heir, the Earl of Dorincourt sends for his only grandson, Cedric, to come to England from New York City and assume the title of Lord Fauntleroy. Having disinherited Cedric’s father over his marriage to an American, the Earl demands that he shall raise his heir alone at Dorincourt Castle while the boy’s mother, whom Cedric calls “Dearest” and considers his best friend, lives in a separate house at the edge of the estate. He makes allowances for little Lord Fauntleroy to see his mother, but the Earl refuses to even meet the woman and is determined to raise the boy to emulate him in his dealings with both his tenants and society at large.
Except Cedric’s goodness is too hard to crack, too hard to not be charmed by. His assumption that his grandfather was merely uninformed about the plight of his tenants and his mother’s insistence that the young boy never know that his grandfather hates his mother slowly causes his grandfather to change his ways just in time for another young boy and his mother to arrive claiming he is, in fact, the rightful heir to earldom.
I, too, fell under the sway of Cedric’s charm despite how unbelievable his perfect nature is. The novel is, after all, a children’s book meant to encourage children to emulate Cedric’s characterization and to remind them that charity and goodness can and does overcome greed and deceit.
This novel does lack the magical elements infused in Burnett’s two most famous novels but, honestly, I did not miss that particular element. I suppose I’m far too much like Cedric’s New York friends, Mr. Hobbs the grocer and Dick the shoeshine, and thus suspicious of Cedric’s change in circumstances yet eager to learn more about Cedric’s new world. And there is no other way to describe this book other than to call it “sweet” and to remark on how such an adjective is perfectly captured by the adorable voice Peters provides for Cedric in her narration.