Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Elsie Dinsore by Martha Finley

Title: Elsie Dinsmore
Author: Martha Finley
Genre: Children's / Religion
First published: 1867

Rating: 1 out of 10

The Elsie Dinsmore books must be some of the most ridiculous that I have ever read.
Everything is very over done and dramatic, but worse than that is an overarching sense of self-righteousness, both from the author and from Elsie herself.

Dinsmore introduces Elsie, her heroine, as the impossibly perfect, prim, innocent-of-all-wrongs little Christian girl. Elsie is strictly devout in her faith, and the author seems to delight in casting her as a martyr of sorts. Her secular cousins and relations are always belittling her for her religion, and Finley revels in it. I can imagine the author as a little girl, wallowing in self pity, and cheering herself up by telling herself how heroic she is.

Really, the morals of this book become more and more disgraceful the deeper you examine them.
Not because Elsie ever embraces anything inappropriate - oh no, far from it! Rather the opposite. She is simply too perfect. I find it hard to believe that any girl could honestly say that she could relate to Elsie when reading these books.

Elsie is tortured by guilt after she plays in a field that her father told her not to enter, and it is made into such an enormous drama that you'd think Elsie had gone and committed murder or something.

When a coach careens off the road while Elsie and her cousins are inside, her cousins marvel in awe at how calm Elsie is. Elsie jumps at the chance to impart her gratingly irritating wisdom to them: She isn't afraid of death, because she knows she will go to Heaven. Indeed, she practically says that she wishes the carriage had crashed, because then she'd be dead and with the angels.

Though the religious aspect of her little speech glosses it over, little eight year old Elsie has basically just told the reader that she wishes to die, all in very cheerful, casual tones.
This can't possibly be right.

Another quite memorable scene is when Elsie refuses to play a song on the piano, which her father asks her to play.
What! Little perfect Elsie, disobeying her father? How can this be?
Well, actually, Elsie decides that it would be an even greater sin to play the song. Why? Because it is the Sabbath, and the song is not a christian one.
Now, I cannot remember exactly what song her father asked her to play, but I sincerely doubt that he was requesting songs about drugs and sex. It was probably more along the lines of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Harmless, in other words.
But can Elsie play it? No. Absolutely. Not.
Her father tells her she will sit at the piano until she produces the supposedly evil song. Elsie is determined not to do anything of the sort, and so she sits there piously, pitying herself and praying.
I really could hardly bear to continue the book at this point. Of all the characters that I have ever, ever read in any book of any sort - Elsie Dinsmore without a doubt takes the place as my ultimate most hated.
Her stubborn, disgusting self-righteous attitude is bad enough, but the way that she (and the author) defend it as an admirable way of pleasing God, and the martyr attitude that they both cling to, is sickening.
The scenario escalates when Elsie, fatigued from sitting at the piano (wow, such hard work), faints and hits her head.
Again, furthering the martyr feeling.

I had to ask myself if Martha Finley was actually serious at many points in this book.
If Elsie is the example that mothers want to set before their little girls, I hope that they are prepared to raise girls who aspire to be spoiled, prudish, arrogant, self-pitying, and impossibly self-righteous little things who twist religion into a way of feeling sorry for themselves.