that blog post about Elsie Dinsmore

Ever since Olivia wrote her rant about the Elsie Dinsmore series, I’ve thought about writing my own post on the same subject.  I don’t know how much of a rant it will be since I wasn’t personally affected by the books (spiritually or emotionally speaking).  I guess this post will be more of a ‘my personal story of Elsie Dinsmore obsession’ mixed with problematic stuff I’ve since discovered in the series.

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I don’t even know where my dad found five antique Elsie Dinsmore books (the first five) but he did.  My mom read the first two or three aloud to me when I was about ten…and I was hooked.  I read and reread those five books a million times. (Well, it was more like four books because the first one went missing for the longest time.  But anyway.)  And then we found the sixth book, Elsie’s Children, and I devoured that one as well.

I would read all six books, wait a few weeks or months, and then read them again.  It was literally an obsession.

Why?  Well, for starters, I found the concept of a series where each book built upon the last one very cool and satisfying. (Up until this point my experience with book series had been Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.)  I honestly felt like the Dinsmores and Travillas were my second family, I had spent so much time with them.  Secondly, the books are super interesting.  New, bad stuff is always happening to Elsie.  Lol.  And thirdly, there are a few (very few) good things about the books. (More on that in a bit.)

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A family friend eventually gifted me all the books (minus one or two later ones).  I remember reading Elsie’s Widowhood on my school lunch break and literally sobbing.  Like, tears streaming down my face sobbing.  MR. TRAVILLA DIED.  IT’S SO SAD.

Which brings me to my first knock against the books.  Mr. Travilla’s relationship with Elsie is creepy.  He’s, like, late twenties (at LEAST) when he first meets her and he moons about her so much.  Always.  Like, from when she’s eight and up until, BOOM, she turns twenty-one and he can suddenly propose.  I didn’t think anything of all that when I was younger, but in hindsight…ew. (Though they were a pretty sweet married couple. *ducks flying tomatoes*  They were!  I still have some good feelings for this series.)

Then there’s the racism.  Yes, the ED books were a product of their time.  But that doesn’t make the racism right.  One of the scenes that sticks out to me the most is that priceless moment when Elsie has another baby and her kids say “I’m so glad it isn’t yellow like the babies down in the Quarter.”

Um.

Yeah.

(We won’t get into the whole ‘yellow’ means ‘mulatto’ and there are only, like, two white guys on the place.  That includes Mr. Travilla.)

(Though kudos to Martha Finley for portraying the KKK as wrong.  Though she glossed over the Reconstruction completely.)

And then there’s the character who, like Olivia, I term ‘the literal worst’: Horace Dinsmore, Sr.  He is truly awful!  I was reading some bits from Elsie’s Holidays and he’s so controlling and domineering and horrid.  He improves somewhat after his conversion, but the difference is negligible.  He’s still proud and cold and stern. (Just not in a cute, shy Mr. Darcy way.)  He still banishes Elsie at one point in the series (after his conversion) which is NOT the way you treat someone you ‘love’, regardless of what they’ve done.

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Elsie herself is unbelievable.  She’s a saint of a child, constantly bursting out in ‘an agony of tears and sobs’, and thinks herself the vilest sinner on earth.  She’s also the perfect wife and mother.  And drop-dead gorgeous. (Also, what about that literal resurrection scene???)  The only book where I think she achieves some humanity is Elsie’s Girlhood.  There, Elsie falls in love with a handsome fortune hunter and because of that, she seems real.  Her struggles to not give up on the guy, even when presented with all sorts of evidence of his Badness, shows she isn’t perfect. (Barely.)  I feel that she’s the most relatable in that book.

Like I said, there are a few things I enjoy in the series.  Elsie’s children are actually good characters, probably because they don’t inherit their mom’s perfection.  I also like a few other characters.  And Walter Dinsmore is the best in the series.  He reminds me of Walter Blythe. ❤ 

I think the series gave me a taste for historical fiction, so that’s awesome.

But other than that…no.  I’ll still reread the books for entertainment, nostalgia, and to revisit a few favorite characters and scenes.  But I wouldn’t recommend them (unironically) to anyone.

Have you read the Elsie Dinsmore books?  What do think is the most problematic area in the series?  And who is your favorite character?

Eva

P.S. I also had Elsie Dinsmore and Millie Keith paperdolls.  I loved them.

P.P.S. I’d like to read the ‘Life of Faith’ editions of the books.  I’ve heard those are better.

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21 thoughts on “that blog post about Elsie Dinsmore

  1. I read the first two books in the rewritten versions. They didn’t stand out to me much, except for how dedicated Elsie was to her faith. I liked that part. But it was a super strict, legalistic faith- there was once when her father(?) Told her to play the piano for his friends but it was Sunday so she refused, and eventually passed out, and her father was so sorry. It was super dramatic.
    Im glad I didn’t read the old versions (the racist parts? Disgusting). It is entertaining to read your reflection on them tho! Thanks for the post 🙂

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    1. Haha! In the infamous piano incident. It was like a dress rehearsal for another book where she refuses to read a secular book to her (sick) dad on the Sabbath and literally dies because of it. (That’s where the resurrection comes in.)

      You’re welcome. 🙂

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      1. Olivia

        Okay, I’m back!

        I remember Elsie’s Widowhood being a pretty good one. And yes, despite the age difference, Travilla and Elsie were pretty sweet. (Although I’d forgotten–until I wrote my own post and got some comments–that, as you say, Travilla was talking about wishing he could marry her WHILE SHE WAS STILL A CHILD???? Like sir no. I get you mean some years down the road bUT STILL. Check out the definition of pedophilia and adjust your behavior accordingly, please.)

        I HAD NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT THE FACT THAT MR. TRAVILLA WAS ONE OF ONLY A FEW WHITE MEN ON THE PLANTATION AND THERE WERE STILL MIXED-RACE CHILDREN BORN. 0_0 *is shook* That puts a whole other spin on things . . . AAAAAAAHHH. This series is just the worst. XD

        Horace is just . . . *decides to not even go there* Not worth the energy. 😛

        Oh my gosh, yes, the ever-recurrent “agony of tears and sobs.” Like, literally those exact five words, over and over. Good grief.

        I think Elsie’s Girlhood was probably the best out of the whole series. (Elsie’s Womanhood wasn’t that bad either, as I recall.) (I mean, minus the whole, “Please tell me that as a the frail and delicate Southern blossom you are you never try to lift your wee newborn? The strain would tax you overmuch, my pet!” thing.)

        What do I think is the most problematic area? I mean . . . EVERYTHING??!! But specifically just the incredibly damaging and twisted view of healthy Christianity and healthy parent-child relationships. (Like Kellyn said, THE BIBLE DOES NOT JUSTIFY ABUSE, PEEPS. NOT EVEN A PARENT’S “AUTHORITY” JUSTIFIES THAT.)

        This was such a satisfying post. I’m real glad you wrote it. 🙂

        (P.S. And yes, the Life of Faith versions are better.)

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      2. Haha! I love your whole comment. I’m actually going to write a follow-up post today because I was skimming through some of the early books and I found a whole slew of other problematic content. 😛

        Elsie’s Womanhood is pretty good. There’s a lot of drama with Tom Jackson threatening to shoot her and all that. And the wedding. But it KILLS me how the entire Dinsmore family packs up and goes to Italy juuuuust before the Civil War starts. Lol.

        Soooooo much problematicness. 😀

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  2. I’ve never even heard of these books before, but I can relate on learning that a book or movie I enjoyed is more problematic than I remembered. For example, Peter Pan is mildly racist towards native Americans, even if there’s clearly no ill will and it was just intended as silly fun. But the main example I can think of is the Adam Sandler movie, 50 First Dates.

    It’s a “romantic comedy” where the female lead had a brain injury that makes it where she forgets everything that happened every night. Sandler’s character falls in love with her well after this injury. The first few times I watched it, it felt kind of endearing. Now it just feels creepy and perhaps even downright stalker-ish, especially when she gets married and pregnant by the end of the movie. Not to mention that before these two characters meet, the woman’s father and son spend nearly a year lying to her and repeating the same day over and over again.

    Funny enough, it’s very loosely based on a true story, except in the real life example, the couple had already been engaged before the brain injury. That and the woman’s memory did start improving over time. That’s a lot more normal. That and admitidally the video Sandler had Drew Berrymore’s character watch every morning is apparently useful in real life for some dementia patients.

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    1. My mom wants to watch 50 First Dates with me…should be interesting. 😉 It does sound kind of creepy/weird.

      Peter Pan is quite racist. (‘What Makes the Red Man Red’? – helloooo) But then, I don’t care for the movie as a whole so finding out about the racism didn’t shatter any warm feelings.

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    1. I have some friends who’ve never heard of the series and I’m actually surprised bc they’re homeschooled Baptists like me and these books are really big in those circles. But it’s also a good thing, too. 😉

      Well, after our conversations on That Subject, I needed to say something.

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  3. liviepearl

    Yes, to pretty much everything. Everything was sooo twisted, not historically (I think a lot of that was real), but morally, and I think the using of the Bible to justify it is what makes it really twisted. I never could really express/understand how the parents or people in authority (in real life, in books like this) are/were wrong, but only my frustration and my sense of unfairness, everything seemed so hedged around by the Bible. I feel like it’s only recently that I understood or could express how some people manipulate the Bible to justify their own sin or sort of fit their sin to the Bible (the verses about respect and obedience to parents, about hospitality, the ONE verse mentioning righteous anger vs. the many others on the extreme sinfulness and danger of anger, do NOT have good connotations for me).

    I enjoyed them as a preteen, child, because they were so very different and extreme (Elsie never even put on her own stockings!), there wasn’t any admiration/love for anyone (except people like Walter and Herbert), and we quickly grew to making fun of them. The part were Elsie falls in love with that awful character is rather hilarious in how angry Horace is, but that guy was so scary and assaulted Elsie, I think.

    Oh, and yes Walter was the only/one of the only really good/human characters (Herbert was another I liked), and YES to that comparison.

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    1. Yes. The twisting of Bible verses and principles was pretty rampant in the series.

      Haha! I love what you said about the books being ‘extreme’. Because they totally are. Herbert’s story still manages to pull on my heartstrings the tiniest bit. And Walter’s, too. And, yes, that fortune hunter dude basically assaulted Elsie because he was kissing her and wouldn’t let go until she threatened to scream. *gags*

      Walterrrrr. </3

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  4. Pingback: follow-up to ‘that post about Elsie Dinsmore’ (feat. racism…soooo much racism) – coffee, classics, & craziness

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