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Good morning! We're ticking along through Elsie Dinsmore, and yet we're moving kind of slowly. This isn't really a problem for me, because I know where we're headed and how sudden the drops are going to be, but at the same time, I want to get to the fun stuff already (the carriage ride! The carriage ride!) And you get the idea how it's running. We're going to have Elsie being wrongfully accused and then sad, as well as creepy asides from Travilla:

Travilla looked somewhat vexed. "I wish," he afterward remarked to
his mother, "that Dinsmore was not quite so ready to second my
requests with his commands. I want Elsie's compliance to be
voluntary; else I think it worth very little."

Her reaction is not given, although I imagine it involves blank staring. But I guess I'll take that as my jumping-off point and talk about femininity and submission in this book (well, these books.)

The cardinal virtue in these books, the one thing that the whole moral system depends on, is obedience. Elsie is obedient, has been obedient, swears obedience as her byword so that her father will stop joking about giving her away to his friends* and toes the line like she has from page one. We have this exchange between Elsie and her father, when he forbids her to go into the meadow:

"Because I forbid it," he replied sternly; "that is quite enough
for you to know; all you have to do is to obey, and you need never
ask me why, when I give you an order."

Total obedience is by now established as the only way to be good. Total obedience is expected. In fact, total obedience is passe. It's now time for the Elsie books to set the benchmark for unquestioning obedience.

Reader interest perks briefly with the arrival of Lucy Carrington. Lucy is supposed to be Elsie's foil in some ways, I think; she's the same age, has a twin brother with a bum hip, and has a loving mother. She starts off to kick off today's event: Elsie has been told not to go into the meadow, and while playing with Herbert and Lucy she forgets. What, did you think Elsie was going to deliberately disobey? That would set us back at having to re-establish total obedience as a goal, when our paragon is supposed to already be far morally superior to that! She cannot err without the help of the plot. Let's watch the transgression in action:

So saying, she darted away, and came back in a moment with the
arrow in her hand. But a sudden recollection had come over her
just as she left the meadow, and throwing down the arrow at the
boy's feet, she exclaimed in an agitated tone, "O Herbert! I must
go home just as quickly as I can; I had forgotten--oh! how
_could_ I forget! oh! what will papa say!"

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Herbert in alarm.

"Never mind," said Elsie, sobbing. "There are the boys coming;
they will take care of you, and I must go home. Good-bye."

Remember: you're not a good Christian unless people think you're completely insane. The best testimony comes from within a rubber room!

And she ran quickly up the road, Herbert following her retreating
form with wondering eyes.

Very poetic until we remember her guest and companion she has brought out into her property can't follow her in any other way, having a bad hip. I keep expecting to run into the concept of Southern hospitality, but there's no such thing in the Dinsmore books. It gets to be surprising they don't have to kill their own food.

Elsie sped onward, crying bitterly as she went.

The other thing she was told not to do was not to cry so much. Anyone remember that? Anyone? Elsie? So on Elsie goes, and this once more gets all weird on us:

...his little girl appeared before him with her flushed and tearful face.
Elsie moved slowly toward him, with a timid air and downcast eyes.

"I wanted to tell you something, papa," she said in a low,
tremulous tone.

"Well, I am listening," said he, taking hold of her hand and
drawing her to his side. "What is it? are you sick or hurt?"

"No, papa, not either; but--but, O papa! I have been a very
naughty girl," she exclaimed, bursting into tears, and sobbing
violently. "I disobeyed you, papa. I--I have been in the meadow."

"Is it possible! Would you _dare_ to do so when I so
positively forbade it only the other day?" he said in his sternest
tone, while a dark frown gathered on his brow. "Elsie, I shall
have to punish you."

Does this seem... kind of scripted... to anyone else? It's just me? Oh, nothing.

"I did not intend to disobey you, papa," she sobbed; "I quite
forgot that you had forbidden me to go there."

"That is no excuse, no excuse at all," said he severely; "You must
_remember_ my commands; and if your memory is so poor I shall
find means to strengthen it."

And she clearly did remember, because they are having this conversation at all! We'd get through this mess faster if Daddy D. could just keep up.

He paused a moment, still looking sternly at the little,
trembling, sobbing girl at his side; then asked, "What were you
doing in the meadow? tell me the whole story, that I may
understand just how severely I ought to punish you."

I like the way he phrases it, as if this can't possibly be worth less than a keelhauling but might not call for the boiling oil. Anyway, Elsie is sent to bed early and told to lie there until tomorrow morning. Elsie points out it's midafternoon. Also:

"What will Lucy and Herbert think when they come in and can't find
me, papa?" she said, weeping afresh,

Seriously, this is like the third time she's started crying since the meadow, and before this she was told in two scenes not to cry so much. I'd hate to be stuck in an Elsie-loop where Elsie sobs and wails because she can't quit crying, but if she has to run all the way home to confess that she stepped into a pasture, you'd think she'd put a little more weight into the other command she was given. My theory is that crying is submissive and feminine and therefore she gets a pass. Anyway, as usual, the person who comes out short is the baffled Dinsmore houseguest:

"You should have thought of that before you disobeyed me," he
answered very gravely.

I've been trying to save stuff until we reach it. I can't this time. Later in the novel, the guests will be wondering where she went again after another trip to confess. Her father put her in a closet as punishment and then forgot he'd done it. Being a Dinsmore houseguest must take nerves of steel, with your hostess' little habit of bursting into tears and vanishing away.

So we've got the Elsie kite in the air now. All these elements will appear in subsequent scenes for the rest of the book: complete submission to every command, total keeping to the letter of the law; the unquestioned role of authority as judge. The only thing that has not been done is the upholding of authority. In a proper paean to the patriarchy, events will conveniently uphold the propaganda. Time to find out why you can't set foot in that pasture:

"Good morning, daughter," said he, "I have something to show you."

And leading her forward a few paces, he pointed to a large
rattlesnake lying there.

"O papa!" she cried, starting back and clinging to him.

"It will not hurt you _now_" he said; "it is dead; the men
killed it this morning _in the meadow_. Do you see _now_ why
I forbade you to go there?"

Yes. This man is a good and wise caretaker. This is why we had three children, one of whom can't run, sent to play by Rattlesnake Meadow with only one told how to stay safe.

Screw you, houseguests! We're reading Elsie Dinsmore!

So.. filler filler. Elsie unreveals to Lucy that she was sent to bed, Lucy says that her father is a reasonable disciplinarian and is happy she's got him, Elsie wants to go somewhere, Lucy says she'd want to go and make a fuss if she couldn't... we're supposed to get a contrast here, I know it, but since Lucy is mostly saying "I'd push my limits" and we never see how far she actually does it or how much it's allowed, it's just... talking. There's more talking. Elsie can't go to a party because her father thinks it might be dangerous and he won't be there... Lucy goes to the party, nothing bad happens, there are no rattlesnakes, Elsie is sad, Lucy is sad oh my god I am doing my part in moving my eyes over the pages why is nothing happening.

There's an odd little exchange where Elsie says that she shouldn't listen to people say her father is being unkind or such, and then she puts her hand over Lucy's mouth when Lucy says that he's always cross with Elsie. This is supposed to be more total-submission stuff, but it doesn't help that Lucy's right. There's more stuff where Elsie buys candy, her father confiscates it, Elsie refuses to eat other candy, Arthur pops up randomly to tell Daddy Dinsmore that Elsie is rebellious and she and Lucy are planning to eat candy, Daddy D. says that's silly did I break this book by accident? Is that why it's not reading?

"Oh!" she murmured half aloud as she covered her face with her
hands, and the tears trickled through her fingers, "how soon I
have forgotten the lesson papa taught me this morning, and my
promise to trust him without knowing his reasons. I don't deserve
that he should love me or be kind and indulgent, when I am so

"O mammy, mammy! I've been such a wicked girl to-day! Oh! I'm
afraid I shall never be good, never be like Jesus. I'm afraid He
is angry with me, for I have disobeyed Him to-day," sobbed the

"I don't deserve that he should love me." There it is again, that idea. How many times is that? Wait, did I read this exact bit once? No... how do you put this thing down and pick it up and tell which bit you read already? I can't tell if I'm stuck in a clunky morality fable or a broken clothes-dryer. Forward motion! I demand forward motion! Quickly, Arthur, put another badly contrived but slightly different innocent Elsie/judging authority scenario into play!

As he spoke he gave her a push, which almost knocked her over, and
in catching at a table to save herself from falling, she threw
down a beautiful vase of rare old china, which Mr. Dinsmore prized
very highly. It fell with a loud crash, and lay scattered in
fragments at their feet.

"There, see what you've done!" exclaimed Arthur, as the little
group stood aghast at the mischief..."Elsie," said Arthur; "she threw it down and broke it."

"Troublesome, careless child! I would not have taken a hundred
dollars for that vase," he exclaimed. "Go to your room! go this
instant, and stay there until I send for you; and remember, if you
ever come in here again without permission I shall punish you."

Yes, that was Arthur, previously somewhat mean-spirited with strong surges of conscience, attacking and then framing Elsie. No, he will not pick one or the other and stay there. No, he is not done with his arc into cartoony villainry. I picture Arthur as this totally average-looking kid with enormous jutting Frankenstein brows and a robot-claw hand. And a top hat.

And then Lucy tells Mr. Dinsmore what really happened and that situation's over. This is basically Lucy stepping into the same role left absent by Rose or Lora or whoever did this last time around. But I do like Lucy. She's a new person, she actually wants to do things and start things and make things happen, she's livening Elsie up. She's a counter against the idea of unquestioning obedience; she wants to discuss why she can't do things. And while she's respectful to adults, she's also motivated to speak up by injustice. With Lucy around, we might find out what's in the meadow early on. With Lucy, this book might be interesting!

"I am afraid Lucy is not a suitable companion for you, Elsie. I
think she puts bad notions into your head," he said very gravely...
"Does she not sometimes say naughty things to you?" asked her
father, speaking so low that her grandfather could not have heard.

"Yes, sir," replied the little girl, almost under her breath.

"I thought so," said he, "and therefore I shall keep you apart as
entirely as possible; and I hope there will be no murmuring on
your part."

"No, papa, you know best," she answered, very humbly.

So that's about all of Lucy we'll see this book. Damn you, Daddy D! If it weren't for Arthur's random character contortions, there'd be no interesting person around at all!

"She is a dear, unselfish, generous little thing," he said to
himself. "However, I may be mistaken; I must not allow myself to
judge from only one month. She seems submissive, too,"--he had
overheard what passed between her and Lucy at parting--"but
perhaps that was for effect; she probably suspected I could hear
her--and she thinks me a tyrant, and obeys from fear, not love."

If obedience is not coming from the totality of a child's being, it's not good enough!

This thought drove away all the tender feeling that had been
creeping into his heart; and when he next met his little daughter,
his manner was as cold and distant as ever, and Elsie found it
impossible to approach him with sufficient freedom to tell him
what was in her heart.

That thing of Finley's where people deserve love? Here it is, playing out right here. Daddy D. might not feel love at all if he has the idea that someone might need it. Daddy D. wants to have love given to him first; then he'll return it.

In the words of a Twilight reviewer: if you have to beg for it, it ain't love.

*It isn't funny when he goes through with that, either.


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January 2012

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