My Childhood Readings: Elsie Dinsmore
So conservative homeschoolers are sort of known for reading the Elsie Dinsmore books.
My family was no exception. We owned the first three books on cassette, all 20 something books in the series, the companion series about Elsie’s cousin, and the modern day rewrite of the books (which are much better written). Plus I have the Elsie and Mildred dolls. The books were written in the late 1800s, btw.
But I was an Elsie fanatic.
First, I should give a summary of Elsie. In short, the story is about a rich plantation girl born in the 1840s whose father comes home from Europe the first time when Elsie is 8, and tries to force her to play the piano on the sabbath day. She refuses to break God’s law, saying she will obey any command but those that break God’s law. So she starves, and on the break of death, her father gives his life to Jesus. But still the struggles continue. Her father beats her brother until he fetches the newspaper as instructed. Elsie gets harsh punishment for reading Oliver Twist, and is never allowed to say, “I guess so.”
Elsie’s father also knows best for her marriage. Elsie falls in love with a fraud when away one summer. Her father intervenes, rescues her, and Elsie is quite upset until realizing her father was right. Her father is always right, no matter what, no matter Elsie’s age. (BTW, Elsie reminds me of the story in Courageous when the girl dates a boy who ends up in jail. Any time courtship is brought up, it always comes with the worse-case-scenerio stories.)
Elsie ends up marrying her father’s best friend (and boyhood friend), 16 years her senior; older men know best. Just before her husband dies at an early death, Elsie and her husband say they never had a fight. Elsie’s step mom, the only parent Elsie ever knew, also said she never had an argument with her husband, Elsie’s dad. Yet the book features her crying when her husband “spanks” the kids, but she never argues, ever.
Beyond that, the book is full of racism. They have slaves, and since they treat their slaves good, its justified. In one scene, they go to Elsie’s mother’s plantation and find the slave master beating a slave. They chastise him for this. During the Civil War, Elsie’s family bails out and spends the years in Europe. They come back to plantations destroyed in their area, but theirs are still standing, and so are their slaves.
And that, my friends, is the Elsie books, sold and pushed by Vision Forum. But I loved the books, and read them many times over. And I never read fiction, basically ever, so that says a lot. I loved it because I identified with Elsie. She struggled to breathe in an authoritarian home, but unlike me, she handled it with ease and poise. I also identified with the Southern culture and all the Victorianism. Elsie always cried on her Bible, and I would cry on mine.
I wanted to be Elsie.
So I’m pretty much in agreement with those who say the Elsie Dinsmore books are full of sexism and racism. But Elsie made my childhood bearable and gave me a warm companion. I am glad to have “met” her.
Anyone else ever read Elsie? Watcha think?