Friday, November 30, 2012

Tall Tales: The Pink of Perfection, Part Four

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to the final article on the Elsie controversies. Today we are exploring three final controversies, looking at the A Life of Faith series, and wrapping up the series generally.

The Victorian age of literature was the last gateway in conservative children's fiction. After that came WWI, and the rise of the flapper generation. Now children read pretty much about anything. Tween girls' series are full of drugs, midnight parties, and the boyfriend/girlfriend scenes--that's Christian fiction, by the way. I've never attempted the non-Christian. Almost every children's book has incompetent parents, situational ethics, and a good few lies thrown in for seasoning.

That's why, in the midst of all this immoral claptrap, Elsie's purity blows a sweet and refreshing breeze on our generation. She may not be perfect. She has her faults and failings like every one of us. But she is a safe haven for girls bombarded with more information than they're ready to handle, or needing a rest from constant evaluation. I'm not saying we shouldn't think when we read her books. But sometimes we all need a time where we find a book that's tried and true.

So let's knock out the last three conflicts that are often posed when Elsie is brought up.

Conflict #9: Elsie's A Doormat
Several women express the fact that they don't like Elsie's humility. Girls Elsie's age, these women say, need to stand up for right, regardless of whether the rights infringed upon are theirs or anyone else's. Being a doormat to other people's whims is psychologically damaging, and just plain wrong. But Elsie's humility regards her wants, not her principles. What does she give up? A toy someone demands from her, a purse that she's making for her friend, a book that she would have liked to read, her time, her money, and her skills. In short, she puts others before herself. We focus a lot on rights in our day and age. "I have a right to my possessions" "I have a right to my time" and "I have a right to live a happy life" are several of the ideas that most people take for granted. Elsie didn't, which causes us to do a double take. Is it because Elsie never pitches a temper tantrum for getting unjustly blamed that we so dislike her? Is it because she doesn't hold on to her possessions, but freely gives them up to others?
Such a complaint has often been made of Fanny Price in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Fanny gives up everything when people ask it of her: inclinations, horse, time, and comfort. Mansfield Park has been branded Jane Austen's worst novel, simply because we have a heroine who quietly sacrifices, rather than insisting that she receive justice.
But the one thing that neither Fanny nor Elsie compromised on was principle. When someone asked them to do wrong, they stood up, folded their hands, and absolutely refused. Elsie stood up to her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, and her friends when they asked her to sin. This little girl has a quiet strength because she realizes what is of true value.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. -Matthew 5:38-42

God evens out the scales so that justice is done.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. -1 Peter 2:19-23

Conflict #10: The Issue of the Rod
The issue of giving girls a spanking comes up several times in the Elsie series. While the point remains that she didn't deserve it every time she almost got it, that still doesn't excuse the wrong thinking on the part of the rich Southerners. Every child needs to be disciplined. Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13, and 29:15 all make a very clear case for corporal punishment. Later on in the series Finley addresses this issue correctly.

Conflict #11: Does Elsie Take Her Guilt Too Far?
Elsie has terrible guilt after doing anything wrong, and sometimes I'm not sure that her guilt is entirely justified. True, we're all too liable to excuse ourselves for 'mistakes' and we could do with a little more guilt than we generally have, but some people do genuinely struggle with guilt that they shouldn't be carrying. For instance, in book one when Elsie's father refused to let her go to the fair and she struggled with resentful thoughts, she shouldn't have gone off the deep end about it. She should have gotten control and moved on. We take every thought captive. Sometimes sinful thoughts do come to mind, but that doesn't always mean that we've sinned. When we are tempted in our heart to indulge rebellious feelings, we choose to replace them with the right thoughts. But in the case where Elsie forgot her father's instructions and went into the meadow--there her guilt was entirely justified. She did wrong, and she needed to confess that to him.
There are two types of guilt: false guilt, and true guilt. As Joyce Hershey, a well-known harp teacher, says in one of her music books: guilt that comes from the devil encourages us to lay in the mud and grovel in how much we've messed up. Guilt that comes from God encourages us to make it right and get up and run again.

It's very important to learn to distinguish between the two.

Review: A Life of Faith
Quite a few years ago now, a couple developed a doll who's hands could fold in prayer, that they named "Elsie Dinsmore". A company called A Life of Faith bought the line of dolls and developed Elsie Dinsmore, Violet Travilla, Millie Keith, Laylie Colbert, and Kathleen McKenzie. With these dolls they developed corresponding clothing and a new and updated version of the original Martha Finley books. Perhaps they were trying to provide a Christian counterpart of the American Girl dolls; I don't know. I do recall looking at the Violet Travilla books when I visited our Christian bookstore. Unfortunately, the Violet books included  teenage insecurity, single girls staring missions away from their families, and other themes that the original books didn't have. While I don't mind some revisions (To Have and To Hold and Pearl Maiden come to mind), I'm not in general a fan of revised and updated editions to make things more 'relatable'. The original books held a power and purity that doesn't need to be updated. Dialect in the original books was removed, and some of Elsie's example is lost in the attempt to turn her into another modern heroine. All in all, I recommend the originals if you want to read Elsie's story, with the sole exception of the Kathleen McKenzie series, which I found to be interesting and worthwhile.

In the end, after going through all these conflicts, I would remind you all that Elsie is just a book. No one has to read it; it's not the Bible, it's not infallible, and it may not be beneficial to everyone. But some of the adventures, and the romance in the later books more than make up for a rocky start at the beginning. Elsie is a picture of a pure life desiring to live for the Lord, and I am looking forward to sharing with my daughters someday what my father shared with me. Chocolate chip cookies included.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    I really enjoyed this series espiecally since my dad and I are reading the books right now. You did a very good job delving deeper into the issues.
    I love Kathleen McKenzie!!!! I should read her books again sometime.

    Love, Sister
    <3,:D, <3,:D


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