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My Childhood Readings: Elsie Dinsmore

March 13th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Homeschool | Patriarchy

elsies-pinkhardcover

I am going to do a serious on books I read as a child. First, we will talk about Elsie Dinsmore, a series I read between the ages of around 10-16.

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?

 

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22 Responses

  • opinemine says:

    Elsie may have been a kindhearted companion for you but her environment, the elders in her life, and the culture portrayed sound absolutely horrid!

    • Lana says:

      Your right. Did you or your kids read them? Just curious.

      • opinemine says:

        Nope, they were never interested in what I considered twaddle that romantisized the false paradigm of an idylic past that never existed. If they wanted to read them after that, they were welcome, but it never actually happened.

        • Lana says:

          lol. I guess no Jane Austin then, either. I never got into ustin books (I tried to read through her books in college because everyone else liked her so much). But I loved the plantation culture.

          • opinemine says:

            Bear in mind, I have five daughters aand their appetite and preferences vary wildly. One daughter read Jane Austin and Sense an Sensibility while a couple of them are not at all into fiction. In fact, their reading habits are more like a man.
            What I sensed from books such as those mentioned here was the propagandization of the book of which none of us have much tolerance.

  • John says:

    Change ‘serious’ to ‘series’. Isn’t that what you meant?

  • Caleigh says:

    Elsie Dinsmore: the books I read and cried over because I could imagine exactly what it felt like to be under a harsh father. I could relate, and that made those books special to me. That is, until I grew up, and realized that the books hit a lot closer to home than I wanted to admit, and I also lost interest in her “godliness.” It started seeming fake to me, and I couldn’t relate anymore. I actually moved on to Jane Austen and totally fell in love and am still in love with her writing.

    Anything pushed by Vision Forum makes me uneasy, and especially now that I can understand why, I know now why I stopped reading the Elsie books. Thanks for taking them apart!!

    • Lana says:

      They do seem fake. Even the description of their plantation isn’t believable. I’ve toured so many plantations. I’ve only seen one as large as those books describe it.

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  • 20-Something Homeschool Graduate says:

    I hate, loathe and despise Elsie Dinsmore, or really the mindset, teaching, and theology that produced her. Those books taught me that true godliness was suffering in silence. They taught me that the harshest abuse could be overcome by submitting to God. That cruel, powerful people would eventually become kind if you just gave them more power over you. That adult women were still rightfully children in the eyes of God. That God would eventually bring a glorious happy ending to an abusive relationship if you buckled down, numbed/denied/renamed your emotions, guilted yourself for the tiniest rebellion, and worshiped male authority.

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  • Older now says:

    I read the first 2 or 3 Elsie Dinsmore books as a kid, based on the glowing recommendation of another homeschool familly. I have to say, I hated them. Initially I read on, because I felt bad for the little girl with the mean dad. But as the book progressed, I became increasingly annoyed at how she is never anything less than perfect. The worse she ever does is “think rebellious thoughts”.

    I was always a free thinker (what my mom called rebellious), and I had no respect for a character like that, for two reasons:

    1- NO ONE is that perfect. A main character that doesn’t evidence true humanity, tantrums and all, is not one that sinful kids can identify with. If anything, it makes a kid feel like crap because they cannot be as holy.

    2. Elsie’s father was a boor! and what she really needed was not to be his willing victim but to grow a backbone! Reading about her just made life look hopeless.

    However, I was allowed pretty free reign in my reading (of classics anyway), so with Anne of Green Gables as my childhood heroine, and (gasp) Nancy Drew as the closest to “worldly” literature allowed because mom loved them as a kid….it was hard to relate to goody.-two-shoes Else.

  • Susan says:

    I read the first book as a pre-teen or teen, can’t remember exactly. I was fundy to the core at the time. I **hated** it because she was too perfect. NO ONE could be that perfect!!! I didn’t read far enough to see the problems with her dad, & if I had, I’m not sure if I would’ve seen it at the time. After all, according to Bill Gothard, dad & mom are Always. Right. No. Matter. What.

    I’m half-tempted, now that I’m an adult and out of both ATI & the IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) church, to read through the Elsie series. I doubt I could make it through, though. I could only read so much before I’d have to go read something with *real* people. Or more likely, go watch a movie. :D

    My “tween” daughter likes the American Girl historical girl books, & Nancy Drew. She’s also read Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc. Some of the characters are more real-life than others but they’re ALL more real than Elsie!

    • Lana says:

      I wasn’t allowed to read Nancy Drew. My mother felt American Girl books were bad, but we read them early on, before the fundamental days, lol. I did read Little House on the Praire, though.

      I knew Elsie was too perfect, but I’ve always been an idealist and wanted to be that perfect. I used to have an imaginary family at a young age, whose children were all perfect. It got so boring a resorted to making a character die to drum up the drama. Then I laid in bed and cried because my good character died. :P

  • Andy says:

    This series sounds horrible and though I have never read them , going by your summary that is NOT a picture of true Christianity and those books should definitely not be encouraged for reading at all. Where do people get that you cannot play piano on the Sabbath? Music is a form of worship. Nancy Drew, American Girl, Jane Austen- I LOVE!!

  • Lindsey says:

    Hello! I recently discovered your blog and am loving it! I am 31 and was homeschooled through 9th grade in a Christian evangelical culture. Your writings deal well with the pains and challenges of being a homeschooled kid. I, too, had the Elsie Dinsmore series growing up. My mom and grandma and I used to read them together and at the time I didn’t think critically about what the books were teaching. Now that I look back, I am sure I would be aggrivated reading them now. My non-homeschooled husband is continually surprised at the ideas I was taught growing up and, after talking with him about this series, the Elsie Dinsmore books are no exception. I grew up with Janette Oak, Little House on the Prarie, The Happy Hollisters (from my grandpa’s collection) and the American Girls series. Nancy Drew books were a bit too secular. I remember hiding a John Grisham book I got from a non-religious family member while I read it. Lol Thank you for creating this space to gather over a shared background that often requires some overcoming. :)

  • Joy Felix says:

    I wondered what those were! My younger sister loved them. I was in college when my family got deep into fundamentalism and had no interest in reading them at that point! I had free reign – perhaps a bit too much I sometimes think now – I probably shouldn’t have been reading Stephen King as much as I did…….

    When I came home from college, my thirteen year old sister was reading Elsie Dinsmore. My parents didn’t seem to know what to do with me and just asked that I not let my younger siblings see my books (though John Grisham was no where near as bad as the stuff i had read in high school!) I tried to figure out what the heck Elsie Dinsmore was and where my sister had dug it up! I thought it was a modern author trying to write an Anne of Green Gables knock-off!




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