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There is silence and the smell of blueberry muffins.

More silence.

More silence.

Finally, you roll over.

"Good morning! It's time to read the next Elsie book!"

Well. We finished Elsie Dinsmore, and noted that after a fairly normal start we were awash in screaming wrong. This book doesn't take the same slow-boil approach. Having surrendered obedience last book, we get started on surrendering other bits of bodily autonomy:

... won't you give me one of your curls to make it? you have so many
that one would never be missed."

"No, Miss Lucy," said Mr. Dinsmore, looking at them over his paper, "you
can't have one of my curls; I can't spare it."

"I don't want one of _your_ curls, Mr. Dinsmore," laughed Lucy, merrily.
"I didn't ask for it. Your hair is very pretty, too, but it would be
quite too short."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Lucy, if my ears deceived me," said he, with
mock gravity, "but I was quite certain I heard you asking for one of my
curls. Perhaps, though, you are not aware of the fact that my curls grow
on two heads."

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Dinsmore," replied Lucy, laughing again,
"but it was one of Elsie's curls I asked for."

"Elsie doesn't own any," said he; "they all belong to me. I let her wear
them, to be sure, but that is all; she has no right to give them away."

He turned to his paper again, and Elsie bent over her work, her face
flushed, and her little hand trembling so that she could scarcely hold
her needle.

Is she upset? Is she embarrassed? Is she enraged? No, she feels guilt because she already gave away a curl.

This isn't the skeeviest thing he'll do. It's also showing that he still thinks of Elsie as just a reflection on him. He is breaking away the normal, healthy barriers between them. Elsie, because she is related to him, is not allowed to own her own hair. She also doesn't get a say in it and doesn't have any right in what happens to it. Which has a couple of interesting implications, since hair is personal and feminine, and this both depersonalizes her and puts her femininity outside her grasp. Elsie is not growing her own hair, according to her father; she is growing his hair. Her long, curly hair has nothing to do with her taking care of it or enjoying it. It's just something stuck on her head. Her hair is rephrased as an obligation that she is carrying around for someone else. In Daddy Dinsmore's world, Elsie's hair exists entirely so he can look at it.

He doesn't have a right to it; he definitely doesn't have more right to it than she does. I did know girls in our Christian circles who weren't allowed to cut their hair. They had it trimmed, sure, but never cut short, because their parents didn't allow it. We felt sorry for them because their parents had set that, but I'm sure once they were old enough it was handed over, or at least taken over as their decision to keep it long. Because it was their freakin' hair.

"I'm afraid I ought to tell papa," she thought, "that I did give one of
my curls away. I never thought about his caring, but I might have known,
because when I wanted my hair cut last summer, he said they shouldn't one
of them be touched. Oh! dear, why didn't I think of that? I am afraid he
will be very much displeased."

TL;DR Finley is barking mad.

"Wait till to-morrow, then," whispered the tempter again; "if you tell
him now, very likely he will deprive you of your ride this afternoon, as
a punishment."

Okay, I give up. You tell me the moral lesson here. That thing Arthur broke in the last book that everyone thought was a watch? Actually the moral compass. Elsie just got appropriated. So Elsie confesses, or whatever the word is for letting the creepy man who thinks he owns your hair know that you let someone cut a lock of your hair a while back, and they discuss whether or not she should be punished before deciding she shouldn't. Because lord knows the only thing that could make that whole own-your-hair thing look healthy is dragging in the books' obsession with punishment.

Problem: we have no story. If Elsie's not getting punished, someone's got to. The guests are all guests, they can't... hey, what's Arthur up to? Enter the scene, please, Arthur.

She led the way and Arthur followed. He glanced hastily around on
entering and then locked the door and stood with his back against it.

Elsie became very pale.

"You needn't be _afraid_" he said, sneeringly, "I'm not going to _hurt_

He's continuing his cartoonish metamorphosis into Snidely Whiplash. Also: he has intensely physically threatened and assaulted Elsie in the past. This is a good time to teach the kids to scream for help when people start acting like this. Just sayin'.

"What do you want, Arthur? tell me quickly, please, because I must soon
go to papa, and I have a lesson to look over first," she said, mildly.

"I want you to lend me some money," he replied, speaking in a rapid and
determined manner; "I know you've got some, for I saw your purse the
other day, and it hadn't less than five dollars in it, I'm sure, and
that's just the sum I want."

"What do you want it for, Arthur?" she asked in a troubled voice.
"That's none of your business," he answered, fiercely. "I want the money;
I _must_ have it, and I'll pay it back next month, and that's all you
need to know."

This marks the start of Arthur trying to borrow money from Elsie to cover up his gambling debts. And no, I don't think she ever, in all the books, loans him a penny. It's worse than trying to get blood from a turnip. The turnip doesn't judge you for trying.

"No, Arthur," she said gently, but very firmly, "unless you tell me all
about it, I cannot lend you a single cent, because papa has forbidden me
to do so, and I cannot disobey him."

"Nonsense! that's nothing but an excuse because you don't choose to do me
a favor," returned the boy angrily; "you weren't so particular about
obeying last summer when he made you sit all the afternoon at the piano,
because you didn't choose to play what he told you to."

He's right. Probably Elsie's big reason is that she was told to, because she will let people think they own her hair. But not many people would loan Arthur the money; last time he asked for money he said his family wasn't big on doing it. The whole bit where he takes one incident out of all Elsie's obedient little life is kind of silly, but I can hardly start complaining about silliness now. And he is right. She picked her own interpretation of the Bible to act on, and she acted.

"That was because it would have been breaking God's command; but this is
very different," replied Elsie, mildly.

Elsie: STILL RIGHTER THAN YOU. So Arthur lets her know that he's owing a debt of honor, whereupon:

"Oh! Arthur, you've been gambling; how _could_ you do so?" she exclaimed
with a horrified look. "It is so _very_ wicked! you'll go to ruin,
Arthur, if you keep on in such bad ways; do go to grandpa and tell him
all about it, and promise never to do so again, and I am sure he will
forgive you, and pay your debts, and then you will feel a great deal

Yes, Elsie. Let's provoke the guy who started off by locking the door and putting his back to it! This is the same guy who's also shoved you into a table and threatened to punch you to the ground another time. A good lecture will set him right. One of Elsie's traits is having the survival ability of an overripe eggplant.

"Tell papa, indeed; never! I'd _die_ first! Elsie, you _must_ lend me the
money," he said, seizing her by the wrist.

"Let go of me, Arthur," she said, trying to free herself from his grasp.
"You are stronger than I am, but you know if you hurt me, papa will be
sure to find it out."

He threw her hand from him with a violence that made her stagger, and
catch at the furniture to save herself from falling.

Okay, Elsie, you can now stop going into rooms alone with this guy. Anyway, Snidely:

Arthur put his hand on the lock; then, turning toward Elsie again, for
an instant, shook his fist in her face, muttering, with an oath, that he
would be revenged, and make her sorry for her refusal to the last day of
her life. He then opened the door and went out, leaving poor Elsie pale,
and trembling like a leaf.

I don't know how she can be so bad at avoiding physical harm when she's always trembling, starting, turning pale, and otherwise showing a fine adrenal system. You'd think she'd just take off every time someone so much as dropped a plate. How does she manage to stay in peril?

But remembering that he had said that her assistance was his
only hope for escaping detection, she at length decided that she need
not speak about the matter to any one.

Like that!

You know, if she weren't so passive, meek, mild, obedient, submissive, surrendering, and compliant of unreasonable demands such as other people owning her hair, she'd be a lot harder to abuse. Most characters I would complain about this whole "keep the secret of the ticking time bomb over there," but for Elsie it makes total sense. She's been primed for abuse by people who are utter crap at protecting her. For example:

She went to him then, and said timidly, "Papa, some of the little ones
want me to play jack-stones, to teach them how; may I, if we don't sit on
the floor?"

"Elsie," he replied, in a tone of great displeasure, "it was only the
other day that I positively forbade you to play that game, and, after all
that I have said to you about not asking a second time, it surprises me
very much that you would dare to do it. Go to my dressing-room, and shut
yourself into the closet there."

Then he forgets he put her there. And it gets slightly easier to understand why she keeps talking to Arthur. At least Arthur constantly, undeniably pays attention to her.

"It is very strange," he remarked, "that you cannot learn not to ask to
do what I have forbidden. I shall have to punish

That's starting not to look like a word anymore.

you every time you do
it; for you _must_ learn that no _means no_, and that you are never to
coax or tease after papa has once said it. I love my little girl very
dearly, and want to do all I can to make her happy, but I must have her
entirely submissive and obedient to me. But stop crying now," he added,
wiping her eyes with his handkerchief. "Kiss me, and tell me you are
going to be a good girl, and I will forgive you this time."

"I will try, papa," she said, holding up her face for the kiss; "and I
would not have asked to play that, but the children begged me so, and
I thought you only said I mustn't, because you didn't want me to sit on
the floor; and we were going to try it on the table."

"Did I give that reason?" he asked gravely.

"No, papa," she replied, hanging her head.

"Then you had no right to think so. That _was one_ reason, but not the
_only_ one. I have heard it said that that play enlarges the knuckles,
and I don't choose to have these little hands of mine robbed of their
beauty," he added, playfully raising them to his lips.

1. Elsie has no right to make a fairly logical inference. 2. "These little hands of mine." 3. Elsie can't play with the other children because it might make her hands look beaten-up and her father might not like to look at them so much.

Elsie's father is a disaster in a lot of ways, but he's really bad to her social life. He keeps her away from her friends whenever she's punished, which is often. He acts like a crazy old grouch around them, he tells them he owns her hair, he won't let her sit on the floor to play with them, he won't let her play some of their games. That he's raising her to be set up for abuse is one problem. That he's damaging her ability to maintain her friendships is another. These kids can't help her and can't save her, but they can say it's not normal (and they do) and that alone could be a bit of a lifeline for Elsie.

I was just thinking how very naughty I must be growing; for you
have had to punish me twice in one week;

Poor man, it's so hard on him.

and then I have had such a hard day of it--it was so difficult
to amuse the children. I think being up so late last night made them
feel cross."

"Ah!" he said, in a sympathizing tone; "and had you all the burden of
entertaining them? Where were Louise and Lora?"

I don't know. I can tell you where they weren't! They weren't shut in a closet.

"They are hardly ever with us, papa; we are too little to play with them,
they say, and Enna won't do anything her little friends want her to,
and"--she paused, and the color rushed over her face with the sudden
thought--"I am afraid I am telling tales."

"And so they put upon you all the trouble of entertaining both your own
company and theirs, eh? It is shameful! a downright imposition, and I
shall not put up with it!" he exclaimed indignantly. "I shall speak to
Lora and Louise, and tell them they must do their share of the work."

He sounds like he's the one being imposed upon. So, so many issues here. I wonder how many fathers read the book to their children? I know that one historian did, but that's one man out of however many evangelicals. I kind of hope they'd be shocked out of the moral-book daze even where their wives sail by.

So anyway, Daddy D. temporarily manages to get Lora and whoever to take an interest in their guests, but that fails. Elsie lets her father know something's bothering her but she won't tell tales. He decides he'll figure it out from someone, it's not at all clear why he doesn't just order her to spit it out. Having underlined the importance of passivity in the face of other people's problematic behavior we get this:

The tears rose in Elsie's eyes again, and she reproached herself severely
for allowing her father to see how troubled she had been; but she said
not another word, for she well knew from his look and tone that it would
be worse than useless.

The only thing annoying me more than Daddy D. grooming his kid into succumbing to abuse is Finley doing it to the reader.

Hey, remember when I kept mentioning Arthur's future characterization? Well, we mention at the start of the chapter that he's still ticked about that five bucks, and this is one of his crowning moments, right here:

Elsie stooped to pick up a pebble, and Arthur, darting quickly past her,
managed to give her a push that sent her rolling down the bank. She gave
one frightened cry as she fell, and the next instant was lying pale and
motionless at the bottom.

That one time he tried to kill her!

Also, there's a small chance that someone picked up on the moral here: shielding someone who's physically attacked you is a good way to wind up dead. Useful thing to be aware of. Someone give Finley a ribbon for creating and conveying a moral! Mary Leslie, and I don't have a clue who that is, waves some smelling-salts at Elsie and the children take pretty good care of her for a passel of eight-year-olds.

As for
Arthur, he trembled and shuddered at the thought that he was perhaps
already a murderer, and frightened and full of remorse, shrank behind
the others as he saw his brother approach.

I can just hear Arthur. "Why did you push her down the hill?" "I dunno." And he holds his metal claw-hand behind his back.

"How did she come to fall?" he asked, looking round upon the little

No one replied.

"Please, papa, don't ask," she pleaded in a faint voice.

And Finley defaults on her ribbon for successfully creating and conveying a moral! Elsie shields Arthur a couple more times, for no clear reason. Lucy goes into Detective-Lucy mode, which is why I like Lucy, and tells another girl she seems stupid, which makes the whole scene less fun. Anyway, all the suspense whooshes out of this whole thing as everyone gradually reveals the children already have picked up on the entire story, motive and all.

The children had all reported that Arthur had pushed her down, and thus
the story was told to his father. The old gentleman was very angry, for
he had a great contempt for such cowardly deeds; and said before all the
guests that if it were so, Arthur should be severely punished.

Some people would find it awkward that all the neighbor's kids know that one child attempted to murder another. You can't say they're afraid to air their dirty laundry.

"And now, father, I have fully made up my mind that either that boy
must be sent away to school, or I must take Elsie and make a home for
her elsewhere."

"Why, Horace! that is a sudden resolution, is it not?"

Doppelganger Dinsmore: kind of thick. Anyway, they hold a family inquiry with all the guests still right there, then send Arthur off to school. Since Arthur has been our antagonist whenever we needed the plot to spasm, we sort of drift along Elsie's recuperation until green-skinned Enna almost breaks Elsie's new doll and Elsie hurts her ankle again saving it. Enna is banned from Elsie's room. We are now really in trouble, plotwise, so Daddy D. gets sick to give us something to read about.

He was scarcely considered in danger, but his sickness was tedious,

I said it was something. I didn't say it was good.

would have seemed far more so without the companionship of his little
daughter. Every day seemed to draw the ties of affection more closely
between them; yet, fond as he was of her, he ever made her feel that his
will was always to be law to her; and while he required nothing contrary
to her conscience, she submitted without a murmur, both because she loved
him so well that it was a pleasure to obey him, and also because she knew
it was her duty to do so.

Hey, am I supposed to unthinkingly submit to authority? I can't recall. Fortunately, since the last conflict was only settled by Elsie braining herself, we get Remember the Sabbath: The Sabbathing.

It was Sabbath morning. All the family had gone to church, excepting
Elsie, who, as usual, sat by her papa's bedside. She had her Bible in
her hand, and was reading aloud.

"There, Elsie, that will do now," he said, as she finished her chapter.
"Go and get the book you were reading to me yesterday. I wish to hear the
rest of it this morning."

Poor little Elsie! she rose to her feet, but stood irresolute. Her heart
beat fast, her color came and went by turns, and her eyes filled with

The book her father bade her read to him was simply a fictitious
moral tale, without a particle of religious truth in it, and, Elsie's
conscience told her, entirely unfit for Sabbath reading.

You'd think they'd just toss their copy of Elsie Dinsmore, it causes so much trouble.

"Oh, papa!" she sobbed, laying her head on the pillow beside him, "please
do not ask me to read that book to-day."

He did not reply for a moment, and when he did, Elsie was startled by the
change in his tone; it was so exceedingly stern and severe.

"Elsie," he said, "I do not _ask_ you to read that book, I _command_ you
to do it, and what is more, _I intend to be obeyed_. Sit down at once and
begin, and let me have no more of this perverseness."

And he ties up the strings of the paper plate in a snit. Since Elsie is basically screwing around with him while he's too sick to do anything about it, I'll give him a pass.

"But, papa," she replied timidly, "you know the Bible says: 'They
measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among
themselves, are not wise;' and are we not just to do whatever God
commands, without stopping to ask what other people do or say? for
don't even the best people very often do wrong?"

Elsie argues for unthinking obedience. This is kind of impressive. It's going to be hard for him to come up with a rebuttal, since he's been punishing her for hesitating to obey or for wanting to know why. But he knocks it out of the park by ignoring that and going after her literalism:

"Very well; find me a text that says you are not to read such a book as
this on the Sabbath, and I will let you wait until to-morrow."

That's actually quite reasonable. If it's such a big freakin' important deal, she must have something to back it up; in which case her religious beliefs get respected. If she's just picking things to follow so she can look better, though, she doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Elsie hesitated. "I cannot find one that says just _that_, papa," she
said, "but there is one that says we are not to think our own thoughts,
nor speak our own words on the Sabbath; and does not that mean worldly
thoughts and words? and is not that book full of such things, and only
of such?"

Well, if she's got no clobber passage about reading novels on the Sabbath, and she says she can't read it on the Sabbath, she is, in fact, speaking her own words. They may be words sort-of inspired by reading the Bible, in that she wouldn't have come up with that on her own, but if it's not what it says it's not what it says and she's saying Elsie things instead. Daddy D. is not impressed, they go back and forth, and then we get this:

There was silence for a moment, and then her father said: "Elsie, I
expect from my daughter entire, unquestioning obedience, and until you
are ready to render it, I shall cease to treat you as my child. I shall
banish you from my presence, and my affections. This is the alternative I
set before you. I will give you ten minutes to consider it. At the end of
that time, if you are ready to obey me, well and good--if not, you will
leave this room, not to enter it again until you are ready to acknowledge
your fault, ask forgiveness, and promise implicit obedience in the

In the Elsie Dinsmore books, "love" is just another way to say "unfair fight."

"My daughter," he said, drawing her to him, and pushing back the curls
from her face, "this separation will be as painful to me as to you; yet I
cannot yield my authority. I _must_ have obedience from you. I ask again,
will you obey me?"

He waited a moment for an answer; but Elsie's heart was too full for

Pushing her from him, he said: "Go! remember, whenever you are ready to
comply with the conditions, you may return; but _not till then_!"

So basically they both deserve however much misery they're about to get.

So the family is very cutting to Elsie and thinks she should be whipped. Doppelganger Adelaide gets bored with her. Finley expects us to feel sorry for the little girl who wouldn't read a novel to her sick parent because he was supposed to be going to church in his head. Elsie swoons at the news her father is getting worse. It's all very dramatic.

She was on her way to the dining-room, when her Aunt Adelaide, passing
her in the hall, caught hold of her, saying, "Elsie, your papa is so ill
that the doctor trembles for his life; he says he is certain that he has
something on his mind that is distressing him and causing this alarming
change, and unless it is removed he fears he will never be any better.
Elsie, _you know what that something is_."

Daddy Dinsmore: brought near death by the disobedience of an eight-year-old. (Or maybe she's nine now, I don't know.) Does the idea that if she does not read novels aloud on the Sabbath she may have a hand in someone's decline and death move Elsie's little rear back to obedience-land? Naw. She just freaks out that she might not see him in heaven. Personally I think she's still ticked off about not being able to own her hair. Fortunately Daddy D. is bound to survive, because otherwise Elsie would have no one else to obey and get punished by. He recovers and remains all cold and distant:

"I am sorry you have broken your flower. I cannot divine your motive--affection for me it cannot be; for that such a feeling exists in the breast of a little girl, who not only could refuse her sick father the very small
favor of reading to him, but would rather see him _die_ than give up her
own self-will, I cannot believe. No, Elsie, take it away; I can receive
no gifts nor tokens of affection from a rebellious, disobedient child."

... you know you're off-course when creepy slave-owning taxidermist is right. The first part there is a pretty good summary of events. And yet:

Just as soon as you are ready to submit to my authority, you will find
yourself treated with the same indulgence and affection as formerly; but
remember, _not till_ then!"

Daddy D. doubles down on the Stepford factor. It's okay if she doesn't actually love him as long as she acts enough like it. I've got to say, when he's saying he owns her hair and her hands and he's this desperately needy, it's a little worrisome he's a taxidermist. She'd better look alive.

Also: without Enna and Arthur constantly framing Elsie, we should end this book next update.


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January 2012

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