follow-up to ‘that post about Elsie Dinsmore’ (feat. racism…soooo much racism)

This post includes excerpts from Elsie Dinsmore books that are racist (both excerpts and the books themselves).  It’s pretty bad (I’m censoring the racial slurs, but still) so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, proceed with caution (or, obviously, don’t read this post if you don’t want to).

I was skimming through the Elsie Dinsmore collection I have on my Kindle and reading the most hilarious bits aloud to my sister…and, guys, I came across so much more problematic content.  My first post barely scratched the surface, tbh.

Elsie’s marriage is extremely weird and borderline creepy.  Mr. Travilla calls her ‘dear child’ (after they’re married), she’s constantly comparing her honeymoon to a trip she took with her dad to the same spot (ack), and she and her dad meet EVERY DAY once she gets back home (unless the weather is bad).  She gives her dad’s opinions equal weight to her husband’s and there’s one point when Mr. Travilla is like “We all seem to be one large family” (he’s vainly trying to redeem this awful, awful situation he’s found himself in).

There’s also this gem (the following excerpt takes place really soon after Elsie and her husband come back from their honeymoon):

“…Edward and I never mean to quarrel.” [said Elsie]

Mr. Dinsmore turned in his chair, and gave his daughter a glance of mingled surprise and disapprobation. [because she said her husband’s first name instead of ‘Mr. Travilla’ or ‘my friend’]

“There, papa, I knew you would think me disrespectful,” she exclaimed with a deep blush; “but he insisted, indeed ordered me, and you know I have promised to obey.” -Elsie’s Womanhood

Whaaaaa.  Okay, first of all…her HUSBAND had to ORDER HER to call him by his first name???  That’s not a problem you face in most marriages!  And then her control freak of a father disapproves???  What even?  I literally cannot. (But there’s more to come.)

Also, Elsie names two of her sons after guys who’ve proposed to her: Herbert and Harold. (Both would-be suitors are dead soon after they propose to her, btw.  It’s like anyone who loves her is cursed, except for her dad.  I mean, even Mr. Travilla dies.)  Oh, and did I mention that Herbert is a cripple and that’s why Mr. Dinsmore refuses to let him marry Elsie?  She was only fifteen or sixteen, but Herbert would have totally waited for her.  Except that Mr. Dinsmore is a discriminating jerk. (Herbert is one of only two really good characters in the series.  He would have made Elsie a great husband.)

Speaking of Elsie’s children, when her first daughter is born, she says that little Elsie is just as much Horace’s as hers or Mr. Travilla’s. *dies of cringiness overload*

So, besides marriage weirdness and naming-your-sons-after-dead-suitors weirdness, there’s also what really prompted me to write this post in the first place: the racism.  It’s much more widespread than I thought at first.  Truly awful.

First of all, Elsie owns slaves.  All the Christians in this book own slaves (until the Emancipation Proclamation).  How-how do you reconcile that?  Elsie’s so strict with following every tiny thing the Bible says, so how could she enslave fellow human beings, people Christ died for?

Anyway, there’s racism throughout all the early books, but it really comes to a head in Elsie’s Womanhood when Elsie goes to see her plantation, Viamede.  Arriving at the plantation, she finds a female slave being whipped and decides at once to dismiss the overseer (who’s doing the whipping).  Her dad talks her out of it (his reasons are good, for once) but then he JUSTIFIES THE OVERSEER’S ACTIONS IN THE MOST RACIST WAY POSSIBLE.

“He is a New Englander, used to see every one about him working with steady, persevering industry and the indolent, dawdling ways of the blacks, which we take as a matter of course, are exceedingly trying to him.” [emphasis added]

and

“Some amount of patience with the natural slowness of the negro is a necessary trait in the character of an overseer who wishes to remain in my employ.” (said by Elsie to the overseer)

Words actually fail me.  I can’t express how angry this makes me.  There are so many things wrong with what he said.  Time and time again, characters in the series refer to black people as lazy, childlike, slow, etc.  It’s so racist, so horrible, so distasteful.  I honestly can’t believe that nine and ten year olds are given these books with no framework and no indications that these views (spoken by ‘good, Christian people’) are so, so wrong.

Also, Elsie labors diligently to “make the way of salvation very clear to [her slaves’] often dull apprehension”.  How sweet of her.  The gospel is so simple that even a little child can understand, so adults can certainly grasp it and her [adult] slaves do NOT have children’s brains.  They’re just as smart as you, Elsie. (Probably smarter, if she names her kids after rivals for her husband’s affections, not to mention all the other dumb stuff she does.)  How do you think all the work gets done, Elsie?  Huh?  Your slaves (‘servants’, as she likes to call them) are PEOPLE.  Not little kids trapped in adult bodies.

But the crowning pinnacle of the series’ racism (also found in Elsie’s Womanhood) is truly unbelievable.  You’ll probably read the following excerpt…and then have to read it again because it’s just too ridiculous to understand.

[Elsie tells her slaves about Jesus.]

“Does he love [n-word]?” a black child asked. (I’m heavily censoring out racist dialect and how Martha Finley spells out every phonetic mispronunciation that black people supposedly make.  It’s really cringy and offensive.)

“Yes, if they love Him: and they won’t be negroes in heaven.” [emphasis added]

“White folks, missus?  Oh, that’s nice!  Guess I’ll go there; if they let me in.”

If you hear strangled choking, it’s just me.

WHERE IN THE BIBLE DOES IT TEACH THAT, ELSIE???  You’re so careful to read the whole Bible every day!  Where does it say that???

Literally can’t.  I’m done.

Good-bye.

Eva

35 thoughts on “follow-up to ‘that post about Elsie Dinsmore’ (feat. racism…soooo much racism)

  1. I know I’m late to the game, but are these quotes from the original Elsie books, or the re-written “Life of Faith” series? I do not remember some of this absurd horrible dialogue, but I’m sure it was just thinly veiled in the re-written books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That second bolded quote … wow. I’ve got no words.

    If a book clearly portrays the people saying things like that as in the wrong (Blazing Saddles is a good example of this), you could make it work as an anti-racist story. By the sound of it, these books don’t do that.

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  3. I grew up on the A Life of Faith books which I LOVED (and, to be honest, probably still do, though I haven’t re-read them in years) and which are VERY different. I was so sad when those stories ended that I asked my parents for the original Elsie books, since I knew the timeline went on a whole lot longer in the originals. OH BOY WAS THAT A MISTAKE.

    It still hurts my heart a little bit to see people hating on the characters (especially Mr. Travilla, who I loved in ALOF) but like…they weren’t really the same characters in so many ways? (Granted, I still never liked Horace, the jerk. Although compared to his absolute tyranny in the originals, ALOF Horace is practically a saint.) To be honest, I think the ALOF stories still have some problems, mainly because they couldn’t just get rid of the fact that the main characters in the Elsie books owned slaves, but they certainly did their best. (although the earlier Elsie books still keep some of that legalism that bothers me. I loved the Violet books, though.) The Millie books were my favorites, though, so I remember trying the originals thinking they wouldn’t be as bad, especially because the characters were abolitionists. Well, that was wrong too, dang it. The total classism! Apparently it’s not just black people who are lazy and indolent, but people who are of lower classes, too. Talk about a shock- in the A Life of Faith books, Millie and her family stand up and support people who aren’t as privileged as they are. In the originals? Yeah, not so much.

    It was basically the equivalent of childhood = ruined.

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    1. The timeline goes on until everyone is thoroughly sick of the dozen or so Elsies running around. 😛

      Mr. Travilla does have his good points. But he’s still pretty creepy when Elsie is younger. I really want to read the Violet books! She’s my favorite of Elsie’s children.

      I hate it when childhood stuff gets ruined bc you grow up. But at the same time it’s kinda good?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, right??? (And even if you took out the racism, the kind of ‘Christianity’ Elsie practices is super legalistic and cult-like. Not a good example of true Christianity at all.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “Christian” people and societies have done terrible things all through history. It’s the fact that Horace and Elsie are written as DIFFERENT FROM ALL THE OTHER HYPOCRITES (TM) that is really the final touch, reading the Bible everyday and for everything (supposedly). So, Horace and Elsie are DIFFERENT (TM) from everyone else by following the Bible verses (!!!) on not dancing and smiling on Sunday? But not on slavery and racism . . .

    And like one of the other commentors mentioned, very connectedly, work. What about that (actual) Bible verse about “he who does not work should not eat,” Horace? Of course, he would’ve said commanding everyone all the time on everything was his work.

    Elsie differs from her father on calling her husband by his first name (!!!) and falling in love with a criminal* . . . but not on slavery and racism.

    And to the family dynamic, everything with Mr. Travilla Vanille, Mr. Dinsmore, Elsie, and the often forgotten Rose, is creepy. My siblings and I greatly enjoyed how “bad” (read: human) Elsie’s kids ended up being. Almost killing their father (in an accident), meeting and marrying who they want, you know being “rebellious.”

    Literally every guy falls for Elsie, really?!

    Walter and Herbert, maybe a few other characters, Harold maybe? Only good people.

    I was curious about Finley and looked her up and found a Wikipedia page about the Elsie books. I know Emily’s teacher in Emily of New Moon (or the second book) makes a sarcastic reference to them, but apparently other books have too.

    * (side note, that will never, not be hilarious though, Miss Goody-Goody falling for the worst person)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read that Wiki article, I think. It’s really revealing how many people even closer to the time of the books’ actual publication were harmed by it and recognized that. Something about “poisoning our souls,” as I recall.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, Horace and Elsie are practically cult-like in their observance of the Sabbath and other stuff from the Bible…but they fall soooooo short of the mark in Real Life Problems. They’re really entitled and lazy. 😛

      I don’t think Walter ever falls for Elsie, but Arthur half does, along with Herbert and Harold and Mr. Travilla. *sigh* And I do love Elsie’s children, especially Violet. But Edward married a fifteen-year-old girl and he’s practically as controlling as Horace, so my estimation of him has fallen quite a bit. But he was still a sweet/slightly naughty kid.

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  5. “Heavily censoring the language”–I’m afraid you’re gonna have to heavily censor MY LANGUAGE in a minute, if this nonsense keeps up.

    I’LL TRY TO BE A GOOD GIRL AND RESTRAIN MYSELF.

    BUT SERIOUSLYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

    *muffled swearing into pillow*

    Alsooooooooooooooooooooo, it’s a sad fact that racism and white supremacy are alive and well in the United States today, so these books definitely could feed into those ideas and shape white kids’ thinking along the lines of “black people are children who deserve nothing more than to slave for white people their entire lives with zero pay.” Not to mention the fact that it’s horrifyingly insensitive to the African-American people whose ancestors actually LIVED these nightmares, for these books to still be an Acceptable Thing.

    The entire Christian community should’ve denounced “Elsie Dinsmore” long, long ago, and there’s no excuse for the fact that we haven’t.

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    1. “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to heavily censor MY LANGUAGE in a minute, if this nonsense keeps up.” << GIRL I FEEL. I was *this* close to swearing myself. 😛

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The series is disgusting on so many levels but the racism is one of the most disturbing levels. It’s honestly beyond words.

      Like I said in another comment, I just hope that posts like mine and Olivia’s can help people see beyond the label of ‘Christian book’ to the very real problems in the series.

      Like

  6. DYYYIIINNNGGGGGGGG. (But also LiViNg FoR tHiS!)

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. You make me want to re-read them and give them a few more slaps in the face. 😀

    But as fun as it is to tear them apart, and to see others tear them apart, it’s really kind of serious. Because, like you said, these books are given to children with very, VERY little (if any) parental caveats about how awful so much of them are. And that’s just sad. And scary.

    YES TO THE RIDICULOUSNESS OF ELSIE’S MARRIAGE. “Guess what, Edward dear? You’re marrying my father too because he’s an obSESSIVE MANIAC WITH PREDATORIAL TENDENCIES AND A CONTROL COMPLEX!! Happy honeymoon. :)”

    AND YES ABOUT HER FATHER BEING AN ABLEIST SCUMBAG. Herbert was really sweet. (I mean, MAYBE Elsie didn’t love him “like that,” and in that case she shouldn’t have married him, but either way, HIS DISABILITY SHOULD NOT HAVE COME INTO IT. You’re all filthily rich; it’s not like it’s going to prevent him from providing for her.)

    (pLUS EVEN IF IT DID)

    Whew. This is going to be a very caps-lock-y comment. ;-P

    OKAY LISTEN ABOUT HORACE’S COMMENTS ABOUT THE BLACKS. *half-rises from seat* Seriously, buckle up.

    It’s bad enough how disgustingly racist and small they are. That’s bad enough. That’s awful.

    BUT ALSO.

    Does Horace have any room to talk about “indolent, dawdling ways” when HIS WHOLE LIFE IS CHARACTERIZED BY INDOLENT DAWDLING??????!!!!!!! THE MAN DOES LITERALLY NOTHING WITH HIS LIFE EXCEPT SPEND MONEY. So, Horace, kindly SHUT THE FRICK UP.

    And, Elsie–you idiotic, mindless, saccharine ball of jelly–if your slaves aren’t going to be black in Heaven, you won’t be white either. Stop taking the one verse that talks about “neither slave nor free” and putting your own ridiculous interpretations on it.

    *very done sigh*

    Seriously, girl, these posts are giving me LIFE. I want to do another one now, myself. 😛 Unfortunately (or, I guess, fortunately?) I don’t think we have our copies anymore. (But if I ever find them again–PREPARE YOURSELF, INTERNET.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually living for your comments. 😀 And do consider writing another post! I’d love to read it. We need all the Elsie-bashing we can get. (You might want to check out all these posts. There’s a bit of language and innuendo, IIRC, but they’re so hilarious. https://featherbless.dreamwidth.org/tag/we%27re+reading+elsie+dinsmore%21)

      It *is* serious. I just hope that all these new posts coming out about the series will help people think twice before recommending the series just because they’re ‘Christian’ books.

      “Happy honeymoon!” You made me laugh out loud with that. 😀

      Yeah, Elsie didn’t love Herbert like potential husband material (actually, I think she never loved anyone, romantically, as much as she loved that fortune hunter – lol). But he was still really sweet and maybe love could have developed if Horace wasn’t such a jerk. Grrrrrr.

      YASSS. Horace does nothing every day except discipline Elsie and visit friends. So, yeah, don’t be throwing stones when you live in such a fragile glass house, Horace.

      Ahhhhh. It feels so good to talk about these books with someone who knows them as well as I do. 😀

      Like

      1. Fun fact: I just tried to read those posts you sent, and while I loved them and they had me howling at times, I had to stop because I was getting dangerously angry at and judgmental of Martha Finley herself.

        (But also, I’m pretty sure I formally recant whatever I may have said in defense of Edward Travilla, because NOOOOOOPE.)

        Same. It’s really satisfying. 🙂

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  7. Heaven forbid that I should ever let my future children read these books. That last excerpt makes me mad!! Honestly??? There’s nothing wrong with people of other ethnicities/colors, physically or mentally, Elsie!!! *smoke coming out of my ears* *tears these books to shreds* *walks out in a huff*

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow… this is worse than I thought! My mom had told me not to read them, but I never knew why exactly. Good for you for calling this out!

    Like

  9. It’s all the nonsense between Elsie and Travilla and Dinsmore that bugs me. Yeah, racism is bad, butttt … it was to be expected of the era. People were horribly wickedly awfully messed up there, sadly. But the nonsense with her daddy issues and the way everyone controls and abuses her and she is expected to accept it and !?!?! I feel like no one nowadays is gonna read these books and be like, “Oh, yes, racism, love that stuff!” But people MIGHT read these books and see Elsie as the perfect example of a Christian daughter, wife, and mother. That literally scares me!

    I hate that. I hate that anyone could read these books and be like, “These are good; let my daughters read it.” Because … ugh. Just makes me mad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, there are definitely still racists in the world these days, so I could see the books still being harmful in that respect. But Elsie’s ‘relationship’ with her dad is so many levels of wrong and that’s what’s really being treated as normal in some Christian circles. Which, yeah, that’s horrible and kinda terrifying.

      Like

  10. It’s been such a long time since I read these books, I’d forgotten most of this stuff (and I was so little when I did read them, most of it probably went straight over my head anyway), but I can’t believe they were supposed to pass for “gOOd cHrISTian Literature™.” These examples are absolutely ghastly. What were the 20th/21st-century Christian publishers who promoted them as wholesome stories thinking?!?!

    I’m so glad my parents decided to throw them all away several years ago. Not only are they examples of absolutely rubbish writing, they’re highly offensive in more ways than one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PREACH.

      The Life of Faith editions are supposed to be better because they take out the racism, but there’s so much to unpack here that it really feels like a lost cause.

      My mom used to like them (so did I) but after taking a closer look…no thank you!

      Like

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