Lesson #242 (Part 1): 12 Pairs of Antonyms and Synonyms through Hodgson Burnett’s Children’s Classic

A Little Princess is a 1905 classic by British author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote the famous Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) and The Secret Garden (1911). I found my old copy of it recently, and while reminiscing (remembering with pleasure) how much it meant to me as a child, I saw how Hodgson Burnett’s clear writing style still has so much to teach us today.

One key to writing well is to write simply and clearly while having a good store of synonyms and antonyms in place.

Our Lesson today will cover the basics of synonyms and antonyms, with some examples from A Little Princess.

We will consider

  • ✏️ Definitions of antonyms and synonyms
  • ✏️ A short text from A Little Princess
  • ✏️ Examples of antonyms (4 pairs of them) in the first chapter of A Little Princess

And in Part 2 of our Lesson (next post)

  • ✏️ Examples of synonyms (8 pairs) in the opening chapter of A Little Princess

📝 ANTONYMS AND SYNONYMS DEFINED

An antonym is basically a word that is opposite in meaning to another. A synonym, by contrast, is a word that means exactly the same as another word.

✍️ As such, antonyms introduce a sense of contrast or opposition in a sentence, while synonyms introduce a richer picture by offering more than one word to describe something.

Before we go further, here is a short introduction to the book itself.

📝 A LITTLE PRINCESS – THE BACKGROUND

📙 A Little Princess is boarding-school story about riches and poverty, and maintaining dignity and influence regardless of one’s circumstances.

Sara Crewe, the main character, comes from a wealthy family and begins her life at Miss Minchin’s boarding school for girls with all the privilege that riches can buy. This ‘little princess’ (as she is called) is well-liked and does well academically until, without warning, her fortune changes and she is plunged into poverty.

Suddenly she loses her popularity as well as her possessions, and is forced to work for her keep.

Through all this, Hodgson Burnett shows Sara to be a strong and mature character for her age, a person who can treat others with respect. Her childlike imagination and sense of moral dignity carries her through until the end.

These are just some of the reasons that many readers continue to return to this children’s classic even as adults!

📝 A LITTLE PRINCESS – EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK

Here are some excerpts (long quoted passages) from A Little Princess that offer us a context in which to appreciate the contrasts (antonyms) and similarities (synonyms) of Hodgson Burnett’s word pairs.

👉 Remember: This text is here to help you understand our Lesson better (and enjoy some good English writing too)! So don’t worry about trying to understand every single word here. Just read through it as far as you can.

📙 Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.

She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes. She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time …

Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that at one time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night …

During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thing was “the place” she was to be taken to some day. The climate of India was very bad for children, and as soon as possible they were sent away from it— generally to England and to school …

“Couldn’t you go to that place with me, papa?” she had asked when she was five years old. “Couldn’t you go to school, too? I would help you with your lessons.”

“But you will not have to stay for a very long time, little Sara,” he had always said. “You will go to a nice house where there will be a lot of little girls, and you will play together, and I will send you plenty of books, and you will grow so fast that it will seem scarcely a year before you are big enough and clever enough to come back and take care of papa.”

She had liked to think of that. To keep the house for her father; to ride with him, and sit at the head of his table when he had dinner parties; to talk to him and read his books— that would be what she would like most in the world, and if one must go away to “the place” in England to attain it, she must make up her mind to go. She did not care very much for other little girls, but if she had plenty of books she could console herself. She liked books more than anything else, and was, in fact, always inventing stories of beautiful things and telling them to herself. Sometimes she had told them to her father, and he had liked them as much as she did.

“Well, papa,” she said softly, “if we are here I suppose we must be resigned.”

He laughed at her old-fashioned speech and kissed her. He was really not at all resigned himself, though he knew he must keep that a secret. His quaint little Sara had been a great companion to him, and he felt he should be a lonely fellow when, on his return to India, he went into his bungalow knowing he need not expect to see the small figure in its white frock come forward to meet him. So he held her very closely in his arms as the cab rolled into the big, dull square in which stood the house which was their destination.

It was a big, dull, brick house, exactly like all the others in its row, but that on the front door there shone a brass plate on which was engraved in black letters:

MISS MINCHIN, Select Seminary for Young Ladies.

“Here we are, Sara,” said Captain Crewe, making his voice sound as cheerful as possible. Then he lifted her out of the cab and they mounted the steps and rang the bell. Sara often thought afterward that the house was somehow exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable and well furnished, but everything in it was ugly; and the very armchairs seemed to have hard bones in them. In the hall everything was hard and polished— even the red cheeks of the moon face on the tall clock in the corner had a severe varnished look …

“I don’t like it, papa,” she said. “But then I dare say soldiers— even brave ones— don’t really LIKE going into battle.”

Captain Crewe laughed outright at this. He was young and full of fun, and he never tired of hearing Sara’s queer speeches.

“Oh, little Sara,” he said. “What shall I do when I have no one to say solemn things to me? No one else is as solemn as you are.”

“But why do solemn things make you laugh so?” inquired Sara.

“Because you are such fun when you say them,” he answered, laughing still more. And then suddenly he swept her into his arms and kissed her very hard, stopping laughing all at once and looking almost as if tears had come into his eyes.

It was just then that Miss Minchin entered the room. She was very like her house, Sara felt: tall and dull, and respectable and ugly. She had large, cold, fishy eyes, and a large, cold, fishy smile. It spread itself into a very large smile when she saw Sara and Captain Crewe. She had heard a great many desirable things of the young soldier from the lady who had recommended her school to him. Among other things, she had heard that he was a rich father who was willing to spend a great deal of money on his little daughter.

“It will be a great privilege to have charge of such a beautiful and promising child, Captain Crewe,” she said, taking Sara’s hand and stroking it. “Lady Meredith has told me of her unusual cleverness. A clever child is a great treasure in an establishment like mine.”

Sara stood quietly, with her eyes fixed upon Miss Minchin’s face. She was thinking something odd, as usual.

“Why does she say I am a beautiful child?” she was thinking. “I am not beautiful at all. Colonel Grange’s little girl, Isobel, is beautiful. She has dimples and rose-colored cheeks, and long hair the color of gold. I have short black hair and green eyes; besides which, I am a thin child and not fair in the least. I am one of the ugliest children I ever saw. She is beginning by telling a story.”

She was mistaken, however, in thinking she was an ugly child. She was not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the regiment, but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple creature, rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive little face. Her hair was heavy and quite black and only curled at the tips; her eyes were greenish gray, it is true, but they were big, wonderful eyes with long, black lashes, and though she herself did not like the color of them, many other people did. Still she was very firm in her belief that she was an ugly little girl, and she was not at all elated by Miss Minchin’s flattery.

“I should be telling a story if I said she was beautiful,” she thought; “and I should know I was telling a story. I believe I am as ugly as she is— in my way. What did she say that for?”

After she had known Miss Minchin longer she learned why she had said it. She discovered that she said the same thing to each papa and mamma who brought a child to her school …

Sara was to be what was known as “a parlor boarder,” and she was to enjoy even greater privileges than parlor boarders usually did. She was to have a pretty bedroom and sitting room of her own; she was to have a pony and a carriage, and a maid to take the place of the ayah who had been her nurse in India.

“I am not in the least anxious about her education,” Captain Crewe said, with his gay laugh, as he held Sara’s hand and patted it. “The difficulty will be to keep her from learning too fast and too much. She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl …”

At this point Sara’s father mentions that he would like his daughter to play more with dolls like other little girls do. Sara answers that she has need of only one doll called Emily. When Miss Minchin asks who Emily is, Sara answers:

“She is a doll I haven’t got yet,” she said. “She is a doll papa is going to buy for me. We are going out together to find her. I have called her Emily. She is going to be my friend when papa is gone. I want her to talk to about him … “I want her to look as if she wasn’t a doll really,” Sara said. “I want her to look as if she LISTENS when I talk to her. The trouble with dolls, papa”— and she put her head on one side and reflected as she said it—” the trouble with dolls is that they never seem to HEAR.”

So Captain Crewe and Sara go shopping in search of Emily. They find her, to Sara’s delight.

Captain Crewe would really have enjoyed the shopping tremendously, but that a sad thought kept tugging at his heart. This all meant that he was going to be separated from his beloved, quaint little comrade.

He got out of his bed in the middle of that night and went and stood looking down at Sara, who lay asleep with Emily in her arms. Her black hair was spread out on the pillow and Emily’s golden-brown hair mingled with it, both of them had lace-ruffled nightgowns, and both had long eyelashes which lay and curled up on their cheeks. Emily looked so like a real child that Captain Crewe felt glad she was there. He drew a big sigh and pulled his mustache with a boyish expression.

“Heigh-ho, little Sara!” he said to himself “I don’t believe you know how much your daddy will miss you.”

The next day he took her to Miss Minchin’s and left her there. He was to sail away the next morning …

When the cab drove away from the door, Sara was sitting on the floor of her sitting room, with her hands under her chin and her eyes following it until it had turned the corner of the square. Emily was sitting by her, and she looked after it, too. When Miss Minchin sent her sister, Miss Amelia, to see what the child was doing, she found she could not open the door.

“I have locked it,” said a queer, polite little voice from inside. “I want to be quite by myself, if you please.”

Miss Amelia was fat and dumpy, and stood very much in awe of her sister. She was really the better-natured person of the two, but she never disobeyed Miss Minchin. She went downstairs again, looking almost alarmed.

“I never saw such a funny, old-fashioned child, sister,” she said. “She has locked herself in, and she is not making the least particle of noise.”

“It is much better than if she kicked and screamed, as some of them do,” Miss Minchin answered. “I expected that a child as much spoiled as she is would set the whole house in an uproar. If ever a child was given her own way in everything, she is … She has been provided for as if she were a little princess.”

And upstairs in the locked room Sara and Emily sat on the floor and stared at the corner round which the cab had disappeared, while Captain Crewe looked backward, waving and kissing his hand as if he could not bear to stop.

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (1905)

📝 ANTONYMS IN A LITTLE PRINCESS

You may have already picked up on some of the antonyms that Frances Hodgson Burnett uses in the passage above. I found four pairs that stood out for me:

✏️ #1 ‘Long’ vs ‘Short’

📙 ‘She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.’

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (emphasis mine)

📙 ‘During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thing was “the place” she was to be taken to some day.’

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (emphasis mine)

These two words, ‘long’ and ‘short’, are used to describe Sara’s life. They show the contrast, the tension between Sara’s being only seven years old (a short life) and having the maturity and insight of an older person (someone who might have lived a long time).

This tension makes the character of Sara all the more interesting!

..

✏️ #2 ‘White’ vs ‘Black

These following lines are taken from when Captain Crewe is on his way to Miss Minchin’s school and is reflecting on how difficult it will be for him to leave his young daughter there.

We might even say that Hodgson Burnett uses the contrast of ‘white’ vs ‘black’ to symbolise Sara’s innocence contrasted with the dark harshness of the school.

📙 ‘His quaint little Sara had been a great companion to him, and he felt he should be a lonely fellow when, on his return to India, he went into his bungalow knowing he need not expect to see the small figure in its white frock come forward to meet him …

It was a big, dull, brick house, exactly like all the others in its row, but that on the front door there shone a brass plate on which was engraved in black letters …’

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (emphases mine)

..

✏️ #3 ‘Beautiful’ vs ‘ugly’

Here we have the two antonyms in a single sentence:

📙 ‘ “I should be telling a story if I said she was beautiful,” [Sara] thought; “and I should know I was telling a story. I believe I am as ugly as she is— in my way. What did she say that for?” ‘

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (emphases mine)

..                                                                                                     

✏️ #4 ‘Separated’ vs ‘mingled’

Note: 🖋️ ‘Mingled’ is another word for ‘mixed’, usually describing mixing one substance with another substance to become indistinguishable (such as ‘I mingled in the large crowd’ or ‘the soloist’s voice mingled with the rest of the choir’).

📙 ‘This all meant that he was going to be separated from his beloved, quaint little comrade.

He got out of his bed in the middle of that night and went and stood looking down at Sara, who lay asleep with Emily in her arms. Her black hair was spread out on the pillow and Emily’s golden-brown hair mingled with it, both of them had lace-ruffled nightgowns, and both had long eyelashes which lay and curled up on their cheeks.’

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (emphases mine)

Has this been helpful? I know it has been a long Lesson, but if you have gotten this far you should definitely check out Part 2 where we look at 8 synonym word pairs from A Little Princess. It will be worth the effort!