Reading The Point today an article regarding Victorian era children’s literature and it stuck out to me because I’ve had a brush with one of the series mentioned in the article: Elsie Dinsmore. A more egregiously pompous, self-righteous, and mind-poisoningly pious series there could not be…
…and to think I was spared reading those books by the merest threads of gender and age.
Aptly titled “Little Pharisees in Fiction“, this review of of the series awoke my memories and pointed to many of the issues I found with Miss Dinsmore.
A family friend family loaned my family the Dinsmore books several years ago. Being a boy and being a little older than the target audience at the time, I had no idea what I was being spared.
As my young sisters began reading the books and proceeding through the entire series eventually, I could not help but wonder, in those rare moments I chanced to overhear a reading occurring, at the drivel-level of story and theme and moral guide of these books. They were, I believe, appreciated most by my mother, who, though well meaning and wonderful that she is, remains human and is prone to searching and seeing significance beyond what is natural in such things.
Reading that review I do agree that Elsie would have indeed been an insufferable snob, had I known her. And, while snobs exist at all levels of assumed piety, they are most thickly concentrated where piety is deepest.
The books ‘teach women their place’ in the Victorian social and moral strata and no doubt Pollyanna’s aunt was quite happy reading them growing up.
Perhaps I am more sensitive to this particular aspect, but the description of the hard lesson Lulu was taught by her best-knowing father is particularly frightful to me. The father is responsible before God for his actions and intentions and thoughts raising and guiding his children. An accident, even by a strong-willed and thick-skulled child, such as Lulu is described to be, is only an accident. And to punish excessively a child for this damages your credibility and ability to punish in the future because you punish capriciously and without cause. My father thankfully for the most part did not discipline in anger (there were times he was angry while disciplining, but I can attest, whenever it happened to me, I was most definitely deserving of the discipline) and even more rarely did he discipline unjustly (I cannot recall a single time). One of the commands to fathers is to not provoke their children to anger. Excessive and especially unjust punishment is a sure method of provoking the child.
This philosophy of the inerrancy of a father in his house is dangerous and can lead to abuse, serious abuse. It does not always, and I’m thankful that my parents examples should overshadow the errs espoused and taught by Miss Dinsmore. But more insidious are the tentacles of foolish pride in a religion of form and function, of appearance and propriety, and I can only hope that my sisters and others recognize the need for judging themselves and loving others, while Elsie seems content to judge others and love her religion.