A Review of Elsie Dinsmore
Elsie Dinsmore is a classic children's book series written by Martha Finely in the mid 1800s. The series disappeared for a while but has made a comeback in the last few years. Many Christian bookstores have reissued the series in paper back as well as audio. It is a popular series with evangelical Christian home school circles but it has its fair share of criticism. Children's literature during that time attempted to teach moral lessons. Children were expected to be pious and well-behaved. In the first book, Elsie Dinsmore, the focus is on 8 ye old Elsie struggles with her Christianity and desires for a relationship with her father. The affluent girl attended school with her young aunts and uncles at Roselands. Wealthy children were taught at home by a governess until school became required by law. She is the only child of Horace and Elsie Dinsmore who died shortly after her birth.
Baby Elsie was left in the care of her grandfather and his second wife while Horace stayed in Europe. Horace was the only child of the senior Dinsmore. The senior Dinsmore and his second wife had six children : Adelaide, Walter, Arthur, Lora, Louise, and Enna. The second Mrs. Dinsnore never accepted Horace as family. In the first few chapters, awaits her father's return from Europe. Meanwhile she deals with tormenting from Arthur and ill treatment from Ms.Day. Elsie confided in her maid who she called Aunt Chloe. Adelaide seemed to be fond of her and Louise and Lora defended her often. Her friend Lucy Carrington came an family friend Rose Allison came to visit. She wondered if her father would love her. Much to her chagrin, he treats her coldly at first. She tries to win his affection by being perfectly obedient with no question. She cried and trembled constantly. The rest of the Dinsmore family cant understand her strange ways. I find the following elements disturbing.
Child /Adult Relationships
Horace Dinmore is placed upon a pedestal. In the first book, he nearly thinks he is God.
While it is good to be affectionate, their relationship borders on almost incest. Maybe parents kissed their children on the lips then but it just seems creepy now. Speaking of creepy, Horace's friend,Mr.Travilla, wished Elsie was older. They spent an awful lot of time alone considering their ages.
Racism is obvious by the broken language of the servants. In the newer editions, they do not talk in broken English. Elsie interacts with the servants on a level no one else does. She saves a boy from being whipped over a stolen watch.
Elsie's quest for perfection and unquestioning obedience rises to dangerous levels. What parent wouldn't want a perfectly obedient child but blind obedience is another matter? Most children are honest but may try hiding a mistake. The trouble here is Horace set so many rules they are bound to be broken. For instance, he would not let her eat hot bread, butter,or drink coffee and he intercepted candy she bought. He told her not to go in the meadow and she forget retrieving an arrow for Lucy's brother She couldn't stand not to tell Horace of the naughtiness.
Mr. Travilla asked her to play the piano but seeing her nervousness he tries to withdraw his request. Horace commanded Elsie to obey the request. Half the book deals with a riff between Horace when he asked her to read him something that went against her conscious on the Sabbath. Horace becomes ill and the whole family treats her coldly. He takes a trip to escape his 'naughty' daughter. Elsie becomes ill herself . It is only then Horace realizes his mistake and returns home.
This is the ideal poor little rich girl story. I can't fathom who would treat a child so coldly. Elsie just dealt with it. There are some things to like about Elsie like she puts Jesus first and is very forgiving. I still wouldn't recommend anyone use her as a role model.