"Late in her ‘teens she had become an orphan and a governess"

Orphan characters are a recurrent theme in literature, probably due to their added vulnerability.


Orphaned children are the central characters in novels such as Anne of Green Gables (1908) by Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the recent Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling.


The trend for this sort of character was started by Charles Dickens with his second novel, Oliver Twist (1837-1839), thought to be the first English language novel to focus on a child protagonist.  Charles Dickens would create many child characters, and it is thought that his interest in writing about children was partly rooted in his desire to make sense of his own difficult childhood. This view is supported by his semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield (1849-1850). It is common for orphaned characters to be inspired by an author's personal experience. Burnett, who often wrote of orphaned children, is thought to have been partly driven by the deep grief she experienced upon the death of her son. Rowling has said that her longing for her deceased mother prompted her creation of the orphaned wizard.

Adult orphaned characters, such as the title character of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839) by Charles Dickens, are also common.