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]
“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.