Sunday, February 7, 2010
"Living with her uncle's family on a southern plantation in the mid-nineteenth century, motherless eight-year-old Elsie finds it difficult to establish a relationship with her worldy father who seems indifferent to her religious principles." (Amazon.com)
I have never read the Elsie books. My mother loves them, but I don't know if I am in the mood for that long of a series or a protagonist that is even more virtuous than Alcott's earliest heroines. While in 1893, The Ladies Home Journal proclaimed, "There has been almost no character in American juvenile fiction which has attained more widespread interest and affection than Elsie," there is so much against her! In L.M. Montgomery's Emily Climbs, Emily is told in a derisive comment by Mr. Carpenter to "go read the Elsie books." Elsie is also mentioned in Maud Hart Lovelace's book Betsy in Spite of Herself. When Betsy's friend Tib buys them theater tickets, Betsy remembers how Elsie Dinsmore would have handled what she considered a somewhat shocking proposal, then dismisses it--"[she] had never thought much of Elsie Dinsmore." Elsie is also mocked by O Henry, and in other books and films. In a recent article commemorating the Anne of Green Gables centennial, it was notes that "Elsie was famous for her pietistic priggishness. She was born good, lives a good life and never changes ... She had conventional good looks, an angelic face... If you look at Anne in contrast, she's quite a departure. She's a skinny, angular child. She was freckled at a time when ladies tried to keep a porcelain complexion and red hair wasn't admired. It was seen as a mark of a flaring temper." (Thestar.com)
Despite all this, I think that Elsie and the young girl serial paved the way for authors like L.M. Montgomery, who wrote a half a century later and were able to humanize their heroines. Martha Finley may simply have been writing what she knew would sell, what parents would want their daughters to read and emulate.