This’ll be interesting. While cooped up in the three back rooms with Warren and all six kids during the remodeling project, I picked up one of Angel’s books, “Elsie Dinsmore” ~ just skimming through when something caught my attention and led to me reading the entire 8 book set. (More volumes have since been published.) I was seriously rolling my eyes the whole way through. I wrote this review and submitted it to Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn’s “Teaching the Trivium” discussion list for classical ed. homeschoolers.
The Elsie Books
The main problem I have with the Elsie books is the characters are all so unbelievable! Even the villains are basically good characters (Arthur Dinsmore was insistent that his younger brother, Walter, not follow in his destructive habits or associate with his corrupt companions).
And Elsie herself has got to be the most unrealistic character in any book which I have read. She’s absolutely beautiful (without makeup & with minimal adornment even past age 40 – she’s radiant), highly intelligent, talented in music & art and a good many other things, nearly perfect in her devotion to Jesus, incredibly rich, generous, unselfish … she never walks anywhere – she “glides”! She’s all that – and she’s humble too.
Imagine – on her 10th wedding anniversary (she’s had five children), she fits her wedding dress perfectly with no alterations! Having recently given birth to our sixth child, I was especially incredulous when I read that part.
I also find it hard to believe that she can spend a half hour in the morning with her eight children and during that time they all recite the verses they’ve memorized and have a thoughtful discussion pertaining to those verses. The children are instantly and joyfully obedient, they never squabble – yet it is never once recorded that Elsie had to resort to use of the rod in order to produce such compliant little darlings. A mere look of disappointment is sufficient to produce genuine repentance in even her very young children – this is not just unrealistic, it is also unscriptural.
These stories would not be so distressing to me – realizing that, of course, Elsie Dinsmore is a fictional character and does not accurately reflect true life – but, does my daughter recognize that fact? If she does not, she will surely succumb to self-condemnation for her own failure to live up to the flawless standard presented in the books. And how can she help but to measure her parents by the near-perfect Elsie and her father, Horace Dinsmore? I have to admit that when six young children & my own sinful human nature mix together – life at our house is not always pure bliss and serenity such as at the Oaks or Ion.
Undoubtedly, it is up to me to ensure that when my children read the Elsie books they understand that the stories are totally unrealistic & I accept that responsibility. I’m a bit late in getting around to my duty, however, as we purchased the books a couple of years ago and I allowed my oldest daughter to read them before I previewed them for myself. This is because of the high recommendations which I received regarding the books, combined with a lack of time & energy on my part as I’ve been rather preoccupied with bearing & nurturing children. I suspect that a good number of homeschooling moms are similarly guilty.
I would like to hear from other moms who have actually read the Elsie books: Did you feel the pressure to be always patient, loving, gentle and attentive to your children? Did you feel that there are so many good things which you ought to be teaching your children or doing for your family that you are not presently doing? Did you feel that your devotion to God and zeal for righteousness are woefully lacking in comparison to that of Elsie?
True, these are very noble and worthy goals – but, honestly I think we homeschool moms already feel the weight of very high standards and even some unrealistic expectations. It is not especially helpful to read about Elsie – who possesses infinite wisdom, patience, & virtue at all times.
And since we tend to expect quite a lot from our homeschooled daughters, I suspect that it could be to their detriment when we read about 8-year-old Elsie who displays such exquisite talent, intelligence, poise and maturity far beyond her years. Are we not that much more disappointed when our own daughters are selfish, ungrateful, lazy, clumsy, rebellious, petty, or otherwise foolish as the Proverbs declare to be their very nature?
Even though I’m mature enough to recognize that these highly idealistic books are not to be taken too seriously, I struggled with feelings of inferiority as I read the books. I’ve no doubt that my daughter, who lacks experience & perspective, has felt a heavy weight on her shoulders as she considers how greatly & how often she fails to live a totally righteous life both in deed and in motive. And, yes – Jesus can use those feelings of inadequacy to point us to His perfection, His atonement. But, there is precious little of that message communicated in the books, since Elsie and all of her children are so nearly perfect that the need for repentance and dependence on God’s mercy are rarely needed.
After 8 volumes of these characters, I am all the more grateful that God chose to include real people in His Book – people who sinned (and ugly sins at that), who had to rely on the Lord’s sacrifice and accept His forgiveness. This is not to excuse my own sin (well, we’re only human, etc.) – but failure, shortcomings and sin *are* a part of all our lives and we must come to terms with that fact. Knowing that we can never return to the Garden of Eden, and we won’t be fit for Heaven while we remain in human flesh, we must cling all the more to Jesus. Elsie Dinsmore is so nearly perfect – and yet she feels the need for the Savior. It is not reasonable to expect that a person could possess the quality of character which is Elsie’s without experiencing a great deal of trials, folly, and/or persecution. It is no wonder that I have little patience for such fiction.
Please excuse the rant — and do feel free to say so if you just absolutely loved the Elsie books and don’t have a clue as to what I’m complaining about.
Just a couple of comments and then you all can have at this on the forum 😉
Why is it that QF moms who are having babies every other year are expected to maintain their figures too? This makes me think of Wendy Jeub on the “Born to Breed” episode ~ she’s had 15 children, and yet she talks about how she felt so ashamed that she’d gained all that extra weight. So on top of everything else she’s doing, Wendy goes on a diet, finds time to exercise ~ and writes a book (Love in the Kitchen) so that fellow Moms of Many can feel guilty about their out-of-shape bodies too.
Part of the reason that Elsie’s perfect children were so irritating to me is that my “lambs” squabbled constantly (still do, though it’s better now that they don’t have to be around one another 24/7). Elsie’s children always spoke kindly and never raised their voices with each other.
I was also aware that Elsie had many servants (slaves actually) to do much of the child-rearing and household duties for her. I’m pretty sure it was after reading the Elsie books that I began repeating my not-really-kidding refrain: I NEED STAFF!! LOL
Elsie’s father ~ and her husband (her father’s good friend) ~ two more perfect men for Angel to compare with her own father. Poor Warren ~ he was doomed too.
While it’s apparent that, on some level, I did recognize that the picture of perfect, godly family life portrayed in the Elsie books was unrealistic and a guilt-inducing set up for too-high-expectations and feelings of disappointment both for QF moms and their daughters, somehow I did not make the connection between Elsie and the “adult” version of these family vision books which I was reading.
I was already aware of the pressure which Angel was feeling to be the perfect daughter ~ and I made a point of having her read my review as my way of reassuring her that *I* did not expect that sort of perfection from her. And yet ~ when subsequent volumes of the Elsie series were published, I bought them for Angel. I’m ashamed to say that for her 20th birthday, I bought her the Botkins sisters’ “So Much More” ~ in the hopes that she would “catch the vision” of virtuous daughterhood. Ack!