The fact that Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Little Lord Fauntleroy” was such a sensation in the 1880s says as much about the contrast between the late Victorian Era and today as any anthropological study could.
The story centers around Cedric Errol, a kind, optimistic young boy who lives with his mother in modest circumstances in New York City, and is friends with just about everyone he meets. One day, he learns that he is actually Lord Fauntleroy, the heir apparent to become Earl of Dorincourt, and he then moves to England to live with his hardened, misanthropic grandfather, who has already made up his mind to dislike the child before he even meets him. Moreover, he hates the boy’s mother, whom he blames for alienating his now-deceased son’s affection, and whom he refuses ever to meet when she comes to England with her son. Cedric’s mother, however, is as good and kind as her son, and wishes him to think the best of his grandfather, knowing that he could not comprehend malice in anyone, so she conceals his grandfather’s true feelings from him.
Cedric, now Lord Fauntleroy, begins to make changes at Dorincourt and for the impoverished tenants who live in the slums of the surrounding village owned by the Earl that improve everyone’s lives and earn Fauntleroy great admiration from everyone he meets; however, he attributes every positive change to his grandfather’s benevolence, and believes that everyone’s admiration is a reflection of how generous an Earl his grandfather is, not knowing that the Earl is, in fact, universally detested by his people as a tyrant.
Over time, Cedric’s optimism, kindness, and refusal to believe in the slightest aspersion on his grandfather’s character actually begins to change his grandfather, the Earl, into the man whom his grandson believes him to be. In Burnett’s typical fashion, there is a plot twist which complicates matters, before reaffirming that, indeed, goodness and charity will always overcome deceit, greed, and evil, and that, moreover, being around positivity can actually change one’s entire nature from wicked to good.