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Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley

Elsie Dinsmore (1867)

by Martha Finley

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Referenced in 'Jo of the Chalet School', this is the first of the much maligned 'Elsie' books. It features the rather too-good-to-be-true Elsie, who is brought up with her aunts and uncles of similar age until her father Horace returns to the family home. She is regularly bullied by her young uncle, picked upon by their governess, and then finds that her father is very strict and apparently cold to her. She longs for love, finding it in her maid 'Mammy', who has brought her up as a devout Christian. There is rather too much preaching for my tastes; I can't imagine how this would appeal to today's children, and can understand why the book have been parodied. Nobody could be quite so humble and pious at the age of eight; Elsie's worst fault appears to be her tendency to dissolve into tears at little provocation. And yet, somehow, it made compulsive reading. So much so that I've downloaded some of the sequels which are also available free for the Kindle. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
Too downtrodden. Made me angry. Orphan supported by her religion, downtrodden waif who always does the right thing. Too many cheeks. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Looking back on this book I'm rather surprised that it had such an emotional effect on me. I remember that this was the first time that I had ever cried while reading a book. Now it seems a bit overdone and dramatic but as an eight year old reading it for the first time it struck a definitive chord in me. Overdone sentiments notwithstanding I think the strength of the book lies in the strength of its main character. I had to laugh at one reviewers take on Elsie Dinsmore. Yes, she's entirely too perfect and possessing characteristics more akin to Mother Teresa than a normal little girl but most children who took the time to read this book probably didn't even notice, much like I didn't. Adults on the other hand are a totally different story. I think this book is definitely typical of its time. Maybe not as effective today as it was in years past.
  MonicaMusik | Oct 18, 2012 |
I can imagine being a little put off reading this book at my current age, but you can't be too harsh on it. I read it over and over and over again growing up and loved it each time! My grandmother, who i loved, gave it to me and we would read it together then talk on the phone about how much weloved the stories in it.
The sincerity and honesty of Elsie was something I grew to admire and covet; I wished for her conscience and sweetness. I always loved reading about how sweet she almost always was and I think in this way the book is perfectly written. The characters were never too far from reality; I always believed Elsie was a real,honest and kind person and I always held out hope for her father to come around. I guess i appreciate that about the book. There are no villains like in Jayne Eyre (or so many other stories with so similar plot).
The intent of children's books, I believe, is to provide a moral and give a reason to pursue strong character.
I understand being harsh in judgment of the book and its too sweet tempo, but if you have children (especially shy little girls with fantastical imagination) please do pick her up a copy! ( )
  emmakate1205 | Jan 11, 2012 |
The Elsie Dinsmore books must be some of the most ridiculous that I have ever read.
Everything is very over done and dramatic, and alongside that is an overarching sense of self-righteousness, both from the author and from Elsie herself.

Dinsmore casts Elsie, her heroine, as the impossibly perfect, prim, innocent-of-all-wrongs little Christian girl. Elsie is strictly devout in her faith, and the author seems to delight in casting her as a martyr of sorts. Her secular cousins and relations are always belittling her for her religion, and Finley revels in it. I can imagine the author as a little girl, wallowing in self pity, and cheering herself up by telling herself that she is suffering for a good cause.

Really, the morals of this book become more and more disgraceful the deeper you examine them.
Not because Elsie ever embraces anything inappropriate - oh no, far from it! Rather the opposite. She is simply too perfect. I find it hard to believe that any girl could honestly say that she could relate to Elsie when reading these books.

Elsie is tortured by guilt after she plays in a field that her father told her not to enter, and it is made into such an enormous drama that you'd think Elsie had gone and committed murder or something like that.

When a coach careens off the road while Elsie and her cousins are inside, her cousins marvel in awe at how calm Elsie is. Elsie jumps at the chance to impart her gratingly irritating wisdom to them: She isn't afraid of death, because she knows she will go to Heaven. Indeed, she practically says that she wishes the carriage HAD crashed, because then she'd be dead and with the angels.

Though the religious aspect of her little speech glosses it over, Elsie has basically just told the reader that she wishes to die, all in very cheerful, casual tones.
This can't possibly be right.

Another quite memorable scene is when Elsie refuses to play a song on the piano, which her father asks her to play.
What! Little perfect Elsie, disobeying her father? How can this be?
Well, actually, Elsie decides that it would be an even greater sin to play the song. Why? Because it is the Sabbath, and the song is not a christian one.
Now, I cannot remember exactly what song her father asked her to play, but I sincerely doubt that he was requesting songs about drugs and sex. It was probably more along the lines of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Harmless, in other words.
But can Elsie play it? No. Absolutely not.
Her father tells her she will sit at the piano until she produces the supposedly evil song. Elsie is determined not to do anything of the sort, and so she sits there piously.
I really could hardly bear to continue the book at this point. Of ALL the characters that I have ever, ever read in any book of any sort - Elsie Dinsmore without a doubt takes the place as my ultimate most hated.
Her stubborn, disgusting self-righteous attitude is bad enough, but the way that she (and the author) defend it as an admirable way of pleasing God, and the martyr attitude that they both cling to, is sickening.
The scenario escalates when Elsie, fatigued from sitting at the piano (wow, such hard work), faints and hits her head.
Again, furthering the martyr feeling.

I had to ask myself if Martha Finley was actually serious at many points in this book.
If Elsie is the example that mothers want to set before their little girls, I hope that they are prepared to raise girls who aspire to be spoiled, prudish, arrogant, self-pitying, and impossibly self-righteous little things who twist religion into a way of feeling sorry for themselves. ( )
7 vote joririchardson | Nov 1, 2010 |
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The school-room at Roselands was a very pleasant apartment; the ceiling, it is true, was somewhat lower than in the more modern portion of the building, for the wing in which it was situated dated back to the old-fashioned days prior to the Revolution, while the larger part of the mansion had not stood more than twenty or thirty years; but the effect was relieved by windows reaching from floor to ceiling, and opening on a veranda which overlooked a lovely flower-garden, beyond which were fields and woods and hills. The view from the veranda was very beautiful, and the room itself looked most inviting, with its neat matting, its windows, draped with snow-white muslin, its comfortable chairs, and pretty rosewood desks.
Careless disobedient child!
You have failed in everything. Go to your seat. Make that example right, and do the next. Learn your geography lesson over, write another page in your copybook—and mind, if there is a blot on it, you will get no dinner.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 158182064X, Paperback)

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 worldly father who seems indifferent to her religious principles.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:25 -0400)

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A pious young girl has difficulty establishing a relationship with her worldly father who seems indifferent to her religious principles.

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