Guest Post: An Outsider Reads Elsie Dinsmore, Part II

A Guest Post by Tracey

This is the point in the book(s) where the chapters all start running together. This time I will summarize the events from chapter 8 of book one through chapter 3 of book two, spoil the ending, touch on some themes, and compare Elsie to other books.

Picking up where we left off, Elsie and Papa (Horace) are all sweetness and shiny-happy. Horace has no major beefs with his obedient little daughter, although he does keep her on a pretty tight leash. Elsie still cries at the drop of a hat, sometimes when she’s sad, sometimes happy, and sometimes when she thinks about Jesus. There are two minor incidents which almost land Elsie in hot water; first she refuses to tell a secular story on a Sunday. Luckily her dad thinks storytelling shouldn’t be forcibly extracted regardless of subject matter. Then she refuses to play a secular song on the piano on a Sunday. As punishment, Horace forces Elsie to sit at the piano until she is so tired she faints, striking her head. Horace is so shocked at Elsie’s injury he lets the matter drop.

Christmas goes by and there are some minor punishments for fairly ridiculous infractions, but things are mostly smooth and a Merry Christmas is had by all. By now we are into book two. There is a rather interesting commotion in chapter 3. Arthur really seems like he may be a sociopath. He continues to show himself hopelessly deficient in empathy. Elsie refuses to loan him money which he needs to pay a gambling debt. (He’s a little young for this cliche isn’t he?) To get revenge Arthur pushes her down a hill, then tries to make out like Elsie slipped. He is found out, and sent away to boarding school.

It was somewhere in these chapters that I started becoming seriously annoyed with the author. She is the one writing all these weird demands into Horace’s character, but in the end she makes sure he always has a point. He was right to keep Elsie from Rattlesnake Meadow. He is right to control her food intake by forbidding butter and coffee. He is right to proofread all her personal correspondence. He is right to emotionally monopolize her. In chapter 1 of the second book he tells her he wants “not a single thought or feeling concealed from me.” This is all written as if it is normal and positive, rather than odd and manipulative.

This was also the point at which I began to see the books as one long, boring sermon. The author manages to work in a ridiculous number of bible verses and concepts—often at the expense of the story. As an adult reader I can follow the neat little trail of breadcrumbs the author left us to follow if we want to be good Christians. We must love Jesus and follow him at all cost, bringing our burden for him to make lighter with his blood. And always remember what reprehensible sinners we are; this is an absolute must. You sinned, tell it to Jesus, and his blood will save you. Repeat. Total downer if you ask me. And probably the most times the word “blood” has appeared in a book for children.

Now I’d like to compare the Elsie story to some others that I actually read and liked. Early on in my reading I felt compelled to revisit the story of Sara Crewe, sometimes called A Little Princess. Sara is also presented as a long suffering child with no one to love her. Her father sends her to a posh boarding school for an education. He then dies, leaving her penniless and forced to become the house servant. Sara is like Elsie’s polar opposite however. She has retorts to match the volume of her mistreatment and isn’t afraid to sling them. Where Elsie’s good deeds are trivial and fall on those the least likely to need or appreciate them (see Arthur and the sailboat incident), Sara has a record of feeding the wholly destitute, even when she herself is hungry. Sara has a strong inclination towards justice. And justice is just not one of Elsie’s priorities.

I also revisited The Secret Garden. It stars a girl named Mary Lennox who is pampered and coddled as a British child in India. Her parents die and she is sent to England to live with an aunt. Mary is presented less pathetically than either Elsie or Sarah Crewe. Mary has a couple of friends and her main problem is boredom. The striking thing to me is that Mary arrives in England still very spoiled, and expecting to be given a servant who will dress her, because she’s never actually dressed herself. Regarding Elsie Dinsmore, dressing Elsie seems to be one of Mammy’s primary duties. The girl is sometimes dressed two and three times a day. Does she peel all her clothes off constantly or what? And I’ve been wondering for a while now if Elsie is even capable of putting on clothes.

My final comparison story will be Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights is a story of love and love withheld and its twisted repercussions. Heathcliff and Catherine (unrelated by blood) grow up together, and over the years fall in love. Catherine makes a careless statement at a critical moment, causing Heathcliff to doubt her love and flee for several years. When he returns she has married another. The rest of the book is about how they torture one another over this love they can never really express. The culmination of Catherine’s life involves an illness that is worsened (if not outright created) by a hysterical fit she has over Heathcliff and the desire for his love. Here’s the part where I spoil the ending of Elsie Dinsmore; she also works herself into illness over possibly losing her Papa’s love. The only difference here is that while Catherine dies, Elsie merely hovers at death’s doorstep. This seems a rather common theme in older novels: death from heartbreak and excitation. I get the distinct feeling that the type of sobbing and gasping happening in the Elsie story are on par with those in Wuthering Heights. And that’s disturbing, because Elsie and Horace are NOT lovers. They shouldn’t both be in such hysterics over one another. It’s creepy and unnatural—even more so given the shortness of their knowing one another.

I am forced to wonder again who this author is and where she gets her information on normal human behavior. Was her life as a child this dramatic and father-obsessed? Or is she merely overplaying the allegory of our desire as Christians to obtain the Father’s love? We really don’t know. In the next post I will give what little information I have regarding the author, follow the second book to its conclusion, and make some final remarks.

Guest Post: An Outsider Reads Elsie Dinsmore, Part III
When We Expect More of Our Children than of Ourselves
On Coming When You’re Called and Fear-Based Obedience
Guest Post: An Outsider Reads Elsie Dinsmore, Part I
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • wanderer

    If it is an allegory, then there’s this whole other issue with the psycho-twisted “love” that she is insinuating god has and wants. ew. No matter how you slice it. Ew.

  • Conuly

    The girl is sometimes dressed two and three times a day.

    Meh, if she gets dressed in the morning, then is expected to change for dinner into nicer clothing, and then puts on different clothes for bed that adds up to three times without even a thought. Or, if she wears nicer clothes for school activities, then not so nice clothes for play (presuming she does such a thing, you never can tell with disgustingly good characters), and then again with the dressing for dinner and – voila, three changes of clothes before bed.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, rich people changed their clothes several times a day. Adults as well as children. lol.

      • Conuly

        Meanwhile, poor people were lucky to HAVE more than a change of clothes. Either way, the laundry was a bitch.

      • Kevin Alexander

        Laundry was one of the ways that women were kept down. As in exhausted by the amount of time and sheer physical effort that it took to wash complicated clothes without machines.
        If a man went to work with a yellow collar he was despised and that made him keep his wife in line.

  • NeaDods

    I love Sara Crewe, and Anne of Green Gables because they’re REAL. Elsie is just a weak watercolor of what a girl is really like.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, Sara Crewe has always been one of my favorite literary heroines. I loved how she always stood up for the underdogs against the school bully. And I loved how, even as Miss Minchin is cruel to her, she is also frightened of her because she has such a complex inner life that that is inaccessible to her and which makes her unable to be truly controlled. Even if she has to follow orders to be survive, her mind never belongs to the people who abuse her and she knows them for what they are and they know that she knows–and it freaks them out. An old-fashioned story for sure, but such a fascinating character.

      As a side note, isn’t “Sara Crewe” the original, shorter version of the story and ‘A Little Princess” the “extended version” that Burnett published afterwards? Or am I getting this wrong? I personally only read “A Little Princess” but I remember hearing that story had first appeared as a shorter novella simply titled “Sara Crewe.” Or maybe it was just an original or alternate title for the same work.

      • Abby Normal

        “A Little Princess” is the full-length novel. “Sarah Crewe” was the same story but in shorter, novella form. Both by same author. I cant recall which was written first–I think it was the shorter one.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’ve never read the shorter one though.

      • Ursula L

        You can download the shorter version at Project Gutenberg, I believe.

      • hagsrus

        I believe A Little Princess was written after Sara Crewe was presented as a stage play, incorporating the new characters, etc.

    • sylvia_rachel

      Ditto. Sara is quasi-saintly in her determination to make the best of things and stick up for the downtrodden, and yet she’s not saccharine-sweet or preachy — she feels real. The book has some problematic aspects for a modern reader, sure, but Sara’s character is not one of them.

      And Anne, yeah :) Love Anne. (My family is going out East for the first time this summer, and I am introducing my 10-year-old DD to L.M. Montgomery in preparation; I couldn’t find the first Anne book around the house (it may be at my mom’s), so we started with Jane of Lantern Hill, and although she was initially reluctant — she doesn’t like to admit that nerdy old Mummy makes good book recs ;) — by the fourth or fifth chapter she was hooked.)

      • NeaDods

        Jane of Lantern Hill! I thought I was the only person who remembered that one. (It was a real bear to try to find an ebook version to replace my crumbling paperback. I ended up having to go to Australia Gutenberg’s pay site.)

      • sylvia_rachel

        My paperback is crumbling, too :(

  • Abby Normal

    I’ve never read these books but it sounds like they have a lot of tropes that are pretty common to Victorian children’s stories–the constant moralizing, the impossibly saintly passive young heroine who wins everyone over with her goodness, the emphasis on obedience. This was, after all, written during the era of “children are to be seen and not heard”, so as wacky as Elsie’s relationship with her father sounds I doubt it was all that unusual at the time.

    While comparisons are being made to other books, did anyone compare Elsie to Jane Eyre? Jane was certainly feistier than poor Elsie, but I think she still had a few of the same Victorian heroine tendencies. For example, when little Jane (rightly) tells off evil old Aunt Reed, she winds up regretting it, apologizing later for not being more obedient. (And yet, I’m pretty sure “Jane Eyre” is still a better book!). Any thoughts?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I don’t remember Jane regretting her “disobedience” to Aunt Reed at all–maybe she did in a pragmatic way but I recall that she remained firm in her convictions. And Aunt Reed was struck by how well Jane had her number. I think we’re supposed to see that act by Jane as admirable.

      Jane does have a lot of inner conflict over whether or not she should stand up for herself against her abusers or passively take it and trust that God will work it all out, as the saintly Helen Burns does. One of my favorite parts of the whole book is when the two girls have a conversation about that topic, and Jane has a feeling that Helen is right but seems to feel uneasy about it. And of course, Helen ends up dead and Jane never does lose her spirit. (And the clergyman who runs the charity school and constantly preaches about the importance of obedience and self-denial is portrayed unequivocally as an insincere, nasty hypocrite.) Helen is more the “Elsie” type character and though Jane admires her spirituality and loves her, she also seems to recognize that she can never be her and doesn’t particularly want to be her, even if she sometimes feels she ought to. My guess is that Jane’s own unresolved conflict about the proper Christian way to respond to injustice reflected Bronte’s own conflict. I have my issues with “Jane Eyre” but I still think it’s a great book about a great character, with many proto-feminist themes.

    • Niemand

      I don’t remember it that way. My memory is that Jane never regrets telling Aunt Reed off. She certainly sticks to her convictions and/or anger when confronted by Reed before going off to boarding school. She only meets her aunt again after the aunt had suffered a stroke and was so pathetic that taking further revenge felt ridiculous to Eyre.

      I kind of liked the way the cousins were dealt with too. The boy (I can’t remember his name) dies off screen to satisfy the plot. This is usually the role of the disposable girl in a Victorian era or even a modern story so I felt it was a small act of rebellion for Bronte to include that inversion. The girls are dismissed to superficial “happy endings” in a couple of lines. Again, suggesting that they are of no further interest and not even worth taking revenge on because they have been revealed to be absolute failures, despite having all the worldly advantages imaginable.

      I never entirely liked the Eyre/Burns dynamic, though even Burns wasn’t an Elsie. She was able to keep her inner character “pure” or at least essentially separate, even while obeying overtly. On some level, I think she understood that she was morally superior to the school owner and therefore no matter how much she talked about submission and meekness she never, ever looked to him as a role model or felt that she must meet his demands over her own. Unlike Elsie. Certainly Eyre never becomes the Elsie type. “Reader, I (active, subject) married him (passive, object).”

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        True, Helen Burns does not stand up to her abusers but there is never any doubt in her mind that their treatment of her is unjust. She is cognizant of what’s going on, even though she believes that it is not her place to do anything about it. That is a major difference from Elsie.

        I actually do like the Eyre/Burns dynamic just because it involves two girls have philosophical discussions about serious issues. A 19th century story that passes the Bechdel test! There aren’t nearly enough such stories even now. I’m always disappointed that filmed adaptations of Jane Eyre gloss so much over Jane’s childhood. It’s the first 10 chapters of the book!

    • Conuly

      Maybe, but most of the more sickening examples of that genre have been forgotten. When I think of books written during that time period, I think of The Secret Garden (Mary Lennox is a brat) and Five Children and It (E. Nesbit had clearly met with actual children at some point in her life).

    • Ms_Morlowe

      Jane Eyre doesn’t apologise to Aunt Reed (when AR is on her deathbed, Jane basically tells her ‘I don’t forgive you, but you’re dying and fuck it, it was ten years ago, I’m not still holding a grudge.’). She’s pretty hardcore feminist, with the standing up to oppression and the ‘I don’t need a man, especially when they’re freaking bigamists’. A better comparison maybe is What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge: Katy’s all willful and tomboyish, but she’s getting too old for that so [SPOILERS] when she sneaks out to play on the swing it snaps and SHE’S FREAKING PARALYSED. And then her paraplegic friend arrives and tells her to suck up the pain because no-one likes a crybaby, especially when they’re female. So she learns how to run a house from her sickbed and miraculously recovers. The message is more ambiguous than in the Dinsmore series it seems: as a kid, I read it as ‘when you get older you need to stop playing with toys and take responsibility for shit’ instead of ‘girls who want to do anything other than housework will learn better…or else’. Also, they read religious books a lot too.

      • Niemand

        Jane Eyre also refuses to marry a man who clearly only wants her for an unpaid servant even though that man uses religion and “what god wants” to pressure her into marriage. Elsie standing up to that is pretty unimaginable.

  • Melody Jones

    In chapter 1 of the second book he tells her he wants “not a single thought or feeling concealed from me.” This is all written as if it is normal and positive, rather than odd and manipulative.

    ….well then. That would be another reason that Evangelical Fundamentalists like these books. These would be “popular” literature that is supporting their arbitrary and awful mandates. “But sweetie, see how well it worked for Elsie? You have to tell us everything, or else you will be disobeying God and I care more about your soul than anyone else on earth. Keeping things secret from me/us is disrespectful and disingenuous.”

    I also notice that Horace actually isn’t down for her total honesty. It’s just an awful, unhealthy, hypocritical, relationship from creepsville.

  • Jaimie

    It was normal in Victorian times for a woman, and man, for that matter to change clothes several times a day. But to blame that period of time for the way all girls were told to behave is way off.

    It is a disservice, as well as grossly inaccurate to generalized all Victorian women as repressed simpletons. Like ours, their time period was home to women who participated and encouraged their own oppression (like Debbie today) and those who stood up to fight.

    Victorian women are the ones who started the suffrage movement, the abolitionist movement, and worked to enact laws against child labor.

    Getting the right to vote is more than important, it changed the course of human history.This cannot be understated. We owe those “repressed” Victorian women a lot.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yes, it seems like Elsie Dinsmore was quite conservative and regressive even for its times. For one thing, it condones slavery (and was written after its abolition!) which plenty of 19th-century writers definitely did not do. Louisa May Alcott, who wrote “Little Women” was an abolitionist and a suffragist. Compare her Jo March to Elsie! Also, “Little Women” has Marmee clearly stating her opposition to corporal punishment for children, “especially girls.” Not thrilled with the gender essentialism of course, but its light years ahead of the attitude towards children in Elsie Dinsmore. It seems pretty clear to me that the Martha Finley was very much a social and religious conservative for her era. There was much more progressive thinking going on at the same time and, not suprisingly, the books that embody it are the ones that are more well-known today. (As far as I know, the only reason Elsie Dinsmore is even in print right now is because Christian Right publishers brought it back from oblivion.) One thing that fascinates me about Elsie is that, as others have stated, it has a lot of the 19th century literary tropes and formulas that I’m so familiar with from reading other, better literature of the period. It’s just that it sucks. :-P Kind of interesting to compare and contrast the stuff that didn’t stand the test of time (or wouldn’t have without Vision Forum etc.) with the stuff that did.

      • Niemand

        Compare her Jo March to Elsie!

        Anti-fan fic idea: Elsie’s adventures at Jo’s school at Plumfield…

      • Brightie

        If she could stop sobbing about separation from dear Papa, that might actually be worth something. Little Bess is the one person there quiet enough to be a playmate for shy!Elsie, and if anyone can drum a little self-respect into her, it would be Jo.

      • Abby Normal

        A romanticized view of slavery and “the old south” was pretty commonplace as late as the 20th century (I.e. “Gone With The Wind”)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Definitely, but it wasn’t universal. I’m only pointing out that Finley’s attitudes don’t represent the whole of her society. There were people challenging her even in her own times. Basically, my point is that her being born in the 19th century doesn’t excuse all of her backwardness.

      • Alix

        It’s … still pretty commonplace, or at least not uncommon, if a bit more circumspect in language. Unfortunately. :/

      • KarenJo12

        Elsie is NO Scarlett O’hara, either.

      • Abby normal

        I first heard about these books through some doll collecting forums. There’s a whole line of Elsie Dinsmore dolls to coincide with the books. They seem to marketed as an alternative to American Girls.

        I agree, though- it sounds to me like these books would’ve been consigned to the dustbin of history were it not for the marketing. There’s a reason why classics are considered classics.

      • Mishellie

        Oh god. Give me American girl dolls any day! The original girls just ROCKED.

      • Nancy Shrew

        Right? Addy wouldn’t have any of Elsie’s bullshit.

      • B.E. Miller

        I would so read a story in which Jo March kidnaps, ahem, encourages Elsie to run away with her, and Elsie ends up living with the March family.

        And it’s been years since I’ve read Little Women.

        Edited to add; the world needs a fan fiction where Jo March and Anne Shirley meet and befriend Elsie Dinsmore, help her out, and where Elsie becomes an abolitionist.

      • Niemand

        Not that the March family were perfect feminists either. When Meg is having trouble with her husband and goes to her mother for advice and sympathy, she is told that it’s all her own fault for not treating him better and paying too much attention to her children. They also support a father who never once does a single useful thing in his life. And all the surviving girls have to get married, even Jo who one would think would be capable of supporting herself and not feel the need to marry.

      • Brightie

        At least Alcott married Jo to an intellectual type and put her over a boys’ school, and let her literary career continue while she was teaching.

  • Kevin Alexander

    I am forced to wonder again who this author is and where she gets her information on normal human behavior.

    Abby Normal has it right. The Victorians, at least in literature, pretty much avoided normal human behaviour. For instance, they were so obsessed with social rank that they didn’t just divide people into colours and nationalities but would divide their own people by rank.
    I think that, if they could, they would give everybody on earth a serial number with Victoria herself as number one and everybody else ranked below her in order to number whatever living in the Congo.

    • Ms_Morlowe

      They definitely weren’t as weird as this, though– and a lot of the nineteenth century was spent increasing children’s and women’s rights, especially in England (sorry, I’m Irish, so I’m more familiar with history this side of the pond). Charles Dickens was pretty conservative, but no-one could come away from reading his books thinking he had the same attitude as the author of the Elsie Dinsmore series. The Bronte sisters were fairly socially progressive, as was Wilkie Collins (particularly on the subject of illegitimacy), and towards the end of the century there were plenty of anti-imperial books.

      Sorry for getting so long-winded, I’m just trying to say that whatever this woman is saying, it’s totally exaggerated and not at all what life was actually like for the Victorians, and certainly not what the majority expected of their children.

  • Niemand

    If you need a palate cleanser after reading too much Elsie Dinsmore, may I suggest this:

    HH Munro was a real jerk in a lot of ways, but he knew how to subvert the “goodness” theme thoroughly.

  • Dawn

    I apologize that this will be a long comment.

    There are a few things you have to know (or remember) about the Elsie series.

    1) They were written by a northern woman who knew nothing about the south, which is why the Mildred books (mostly based in the North) are a little more believable. And Finley believed in abolition – see the Mildred books. But the Mildred books were meant for an older population. The Elsie books were meant for young girls. Also: you meet Mildred as a late teen. Elsie is a child, written by a woman who had no children.

    2) The original book was to end when Elsie’s father repented and became a Christian. The 1st book broken into 2 books and padding added at the insistence of the publisher who saw a cash cow in the making. And all the additional books were contracted essentially the same way. She tried several times to end the series (see the preface in Elsie’s Children in the original versions of the series), and with Elsie’s Widowhood. Unfortunately, the books made money, which she needed, so she kept writing. The later books are horribly padded with excerpts from other books – American history, Scottish folk tales – and have a lot of that information repeated because she was tired of the series.

    3) Elsie is an idealized person, basically living in an idealized world. Martha Finley had no contact with black slaves nor how they spoke. She wrote the books to support herself and, put her own views of the world and how it should be, in them. She idealized her father, but had some conflicts. So Elsie’s idealization of her father reflects how Martha wishes her life had been/was. (The same with Elsie being a rich heiress, beautiful, having slaves do the work for her who loved to do it, etc)

    4) Elsie’s father and mother married without parental permission, under age. Mamma Elsie was 15, an heiress who’s father was “new money” from business. Her father was 17 at the time. They married after knowing each other only a short time, because they were afraid that Elsie’s guardian would separate them because he would lose the right to manage her estate (and the income from it) and because Horace knew his father (“old money”) would never countenance a marriage with someone whose money was in business. While Elsie was raised by mammy, her first 4 years were spent at her mother’s estate, being raised by mammy, the housekeeper (a Scotswoman), and others. She didn’t join her aunts and uncles until her guardian (the same as her mother’s guardian) died. Until that time, none of that family knew of Elsie’s existence except Horace’s father and presumably stepmother, who disliked him (as the oldest son, he would inherit the estate, not any of her children, born after him). So Elsie had no one in that household on her side except mammy Her grandfather disliked her due to the new money background. Her stepgrandmother disliked Elsie because Elsie would supplant her own children in inheritance as Horace’s daughter (oldest child of the oldest child -AND an heiress in her own right, so a competitor for her own daughters’ suitors in the future).

    To give Elsie (and her father) a little credit where it’s due – Elsie was highly educated for a woman of her period. She was represented as learning Latin, bookkeeping, mathematics, literature, and other arts and activities. Her father was particular about her spelling, handwriting, and language. And she repeated the good education patterns with her own children, male and female, and even the later books stressed a thorough education for both boys and girls.

    And the later books represent that she felt it was very important for women as well as men to be able to support themselves. Women who run boarding houses, sew, teach, nurse, or write for a living are represented as respectable and respected. Granted, marriage was the goal for that time period, and single women were pitied. But that reflects the time. Some of the later books do also hint that Martha Finley was sympathetic towards the women’s right to vote.

    (Disclaimer – I own all the Elsie books AND the Mildred books. I have read them many times, as well as several critical analyses. They are great reading for when I’m depressed…they send me into hysterical laughter every time! And I find the Life of Faith re-writes awful. They pretty up a time that isn’t pretty.)

    I preferred the Alcott books, and others, where the people are more real. But the Elsie books, and The Wide, Wide World, were written to be templates for girls to live up to by several of the Christian groups (no dancing, no drinking, girls are generally less able then boys, etc)

    • Tracey

      Interesting stuff. Thanks for the insights. I admit I didn’t go all out reading beyond book two or searching extensively regarding the author. I had heard the first two books were a single long book and that the ending was changed, but didn’t want to include it because I wasn’t sure the source was correct. Makes sense however given the foreshadowing I experienced. Now I kinda wonder how much control the author really had over the characters. She too is somewhat stuck as a single woman trying to write what would earn her a living.

    • Lana Hope

      Yes, I grew up in the south, and have toured so many plantation. They look nothing like the elsie books describe them.

    • B.E. Miller

      Thanks for mentioning the bits about the writer. I had not known all that. Now I’m tempted to find out what the original version of Elsie would have been.

  • Mishellie

    Sarah crewe Sarah crewe Sarah crewe. My very favorite movie to this day, at 24, is A Little Princess, the Alfonso cuaron 90s one. Kills me every time. She is who Id like my daughters to be. And “papa?! Papa do you remember me? Papa!” Kills me. Every. Single. Time.

    • B.E. Miller

      I have not seen that version of the Little Princess. Have you seen the Secret Garden movie, 1993, directed by Agnieszka Holland? I love that version of The Secret Garden, especially for the end. (Though it changes the bit about the death of Mary’s parents in India.)

      Where Colin’s dad is dancing about with Colin, (now that Colin is walking) Mary is crying and upset “because no one remembered the garden.” You realize she’s using the garden to equate to herself, because her parents had always ignored her, and now that Lord Craven is back, she’s worried about being ‘forgotten again.’ It always makes me cry where Lord Craven is reassuring her that the Garden (ie her) will always be remembered.

    • Gillianren

      Especially given that he’s, you know, actually dead in the book? That’s why I can’t watch any adaptations of A Little Princess other than the ’80s version that aired on PBS when I was a kid. It’s the only one where Captain Crewe is really dead. I don’t watch adaptations of The Secret Garden for similar reasons. The books are great; the adaptations almost never are.

  • kisarita

    Interesting comparison to wuthering heights. your idea that elsie’s distress is too lover-like i find an interesting cultural statement- that adult romantic distress is somehow seen more normal than the distress over a minor child losing the love of a parent. In my view quite the opposite is true.

    (caveat: I haven’t read the book myself to see how its presented only commenting on your formulation).

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    “There are two minor incidents which almost land Elsie in hot water;
    first she refuses to tell a secular story on a Sunday. Luckily her dad
    thinks storytelling shouldn’t be forcibly extracted regardless of
    subject matter. Then she refuses to play a secular song on the piano on a
    Sunday. As punishment, Horace forces Elsie to sit at the piano until
    she is so tired she faints, striking her head.”

    She’s being treated like a performing monkey!