Friday, November 9, 2012
Tall Tales: The Pink of Perfection (Part One)
Besides the fact that I've now admitted to my deep dark Disney past, I think this will be a fun series, as we explore the world of Elsie Dinsmore.
Poll results were very interesting:
1. She's a godly example, and I enjoy reading these books: 20% (4 votes)
2. She's too perfect, but I still read her books every now and then: 30% (6 votes)
3. She's way to perfect. She sets my teeth on edge: 20% (4 votes)
4. Who is Elsie Dinsmore? I've never heard of her. 30% (6 votes)
You all were in a conspiracy to yield me these perfect alternating results. :)
I remember the day I first met Elsie Dinsmore. Some friends of ours lent us the first book in the series, and for a very long time it sat on the bookshelf. Finally, one Saturday morning, my dad said "I'd like to read Elsie Dinsmore to you."
I looked at it doubtfully. "I don't know if I want to read that book."
"Why?" he asked.
I didn't know. 9 years old at the time, I had just taken it into my head that I wouldn't like it, for whatever odd reason. I didn't know the story, hadn't even heard anyone else say they didn't like it, but I was sure I wouldn't. Talk about judging a book by its cover; the poor thing didn't stand a chance.
"One chapter," my dad said, "And if you don't like it, we don't have to read it."
We curled up on the couch together, my dad with a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie in one hand, and the book in the other. And we read chapter one. I can still smell the cookies today, and every time I hear Elsie Dinsmore I think of warm gooey chocolate, the recipe of which is never allowed to be altered in our home. At the end of the chapter my dad closed the book, and my hand shot out to intercept him, as every nine-year-old's does. He smiled at me. "Do you like it?"
I grinned. "Let's read another chapter."
That is why I love Elsie Dinsmore.
Some of you who chose the fourth option on the poll probably did so because you had heard of her, but never read her. However, for those of you who haven't I'm going to give a short plot synopsis below. It will make the rest of the series a lot more understandable.
Conflict #1: The Era of the Elsies
A little digging leads me to a few interesting observations on the history surrounding the Elsie Dinsmore books. And frankly, the wide variance of opinion about this heroine doesn't surprise me. Elsie stemmed out of the Victorian Era of children's literature, which gave boys The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, R.M. Ballentyne, Treasure Island, and Kim--and gave girls Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Isabella Alden, and Elsie Dinsmore. While books such as Black Beauty and The Wind in the Willows were considered appropriate for both boys and girls, the other literary offerings of that time were strictly divided between the sexes. And never the twain shall meet. No wonder, after a time, that literature took a shift. I love Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but I wouldn't want to be excluded from Treasure Island. And let's face it--there are only so many Isabella Alden Sunday School classes that one can handle. (Forgive me, all Alden fans.)
Now before I start sounding like someone who has a dislike for Victorian literature (far from it) or a horror of good stories where children know their Scripture, let me clarify myself. I love characters who are true, and brave, and wise, and pure. I love characters who use Scripture, as in Hinds' Feet on High Places. I also love stories about good boys and girls. But some authors during the Temperance Movement administered morals like Tar Water, and I don't think a child should feel guilty for not liking that. Spending a few of your pennies for chocolates is not going to send you down the road of destruction, and you don't have to teach a Sunday School class to inherit eternal life. Nor should all children have to have a burning desire to be martyred as a proof that they love the Lord.
Many people complain about Elsie because she's too perfect. But often they forget that heroines of Victorian literature were never intended to be relatable. They were intended to be examples. You're not supposed to be best pals with Elsie; you're supposed to look up to and imitate her.
Solution: Recognize that Victorian ideals had their weak points. Take it with a grain of salt, and don't try to read an exclusive diet of this literature--or at least an exclusive diet of the girls' books. Also, it is beneficial to be faced with a perfect example now and then. Sometimes we get comfortable being "just as good as everybody else", and it's impossible to hold that mindset and read Elsie Dinsmore at the same time. The two are going to clash.
Much more about Elsie controversies next Friday.