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"Oh, god, not again," you groan as the mattress shakes with the force of my leap from across the room.

"Morning!" I say. "I made coffee!"

"...I think I'm in the mood for tea," you say.

"Well," I say. "I made it with a good attitude and a desire to make someone happy, so that means it's better than tea."

"Yes, but I still want tea."

"Too bad! Elsie Dinsmore'd!!"

"They have all gone to the fair and left you at home alone;
perhaps to learn a lesson you have failed in reciting?" said the
lady, inquiringly.

"Yes, ma'am," said the child; "but that is not the worst;" and her
tears fell faster, as she laid the little Bible on the desk, and
pointed with her finger to the words she had been reading. "Oh!"
she sobbed, "I--I did not do it; I did not bear it patiently. I
was treated unjustly, and punished when I was not to blame, and I
grew angry. Oh! I'm afraid I shall never be like Jesus! never,

Hold it.

Elsie has, in the course of this chapter so far, shown herself to be the near-youngest child present who holds herself from the others, going against their advice and attempts to help, to stick to her own religious convictions. When she's physically abused by an adult who was also giving out unjust punishment, and when Arthur's parent comes to his rescue but not hers, and she's kept inside to do schoolwork, her biggest problem is that she failed once more to be exactly like the perfect son of her god.

The evangelical group I grew up in believed that it was impossible to be just like Christ because humans were innately sinful. They got other things wrong, but that one they got right: we believed we were held to a higher moral standard, which might make us miserable to uphold, but it was accepted that we were not going to consistently hit it and we shouldn't flagellate ourselves for that. Elsie not only takes the route of constant self-martyrdom and attempted emotional amputation, but she claims here a new goal: to be like Jesus.

Not being angry in the face of injustice is... well, literally not natural. (I'm not a Christian now and have no horse in the race, but I don't think it sounds much like Jesus, either.) Elsie wants something that isn't human, and wouldn't be morally right if it were. Elsie's somehow devoutly worked herself around to a position that's nearly Luciferian: "I will be like god." In the beginning of the first book, no less.

Well, she's possibly retreated from sadness into the safe haven of literate-Christianity religion. Maybe she's accidentally dabbling in Satanism, but the kid is eight years old. It's not like anyone is claiming she's an expert!

So. This woman is Rose Allison, who is a genteel Christian visitor who is "greatly pained by the utter disregard of the family in which she was sojourning for the teachings of God's word." Rose Allison, seeing that a religious point is causing suffering, does the humane thing:

"Well, Elsie, let me read you another verse from this blessed
book. Here it is: 'The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us
from _all_ sin.' And here again: 'If any man sin, we have an
advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous.' Dear Elsie,
'if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our

"Yes, ma'am," said the child; "I have asked Him to forgive me, and
I know He has; but I am so sorry, oh! _so_ sorry that I have
grieved and displeased Him; for, O Miss Allison! I _do_ love
Jesus, and want to be like Him always."

"Yes, dear child, we must grieve for our sins when we remember
that they helped to slay the Lord. But I am very, very glad to
learn that you love Jesus, and are striving to do His will. I love
Him too, and we will love one another; for you know He says, 'By
this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one
to another,'" said Miss Allison, stroking the little girl's hair,
and kissing her tenderly.

"Will you love me? Oh! how glad I am," exclaimed the child
joyfully; "I have nobody to love me but poor old mammy."

This is probably the biggest reason why she has totally immersed herself in a religion that is supposed to center around love. Love, the seeking of love, the attaining of love, and the upholding of love is a big part of these books... but given the way these books define love, that's often a bitter read. Read on!

"And who is mammy?" asked the lady.

Well, mammy is a slave. (This is actually clarified later. Much later. Books later.)

"My dear old nurse, who has always taken care of me. Have you not
seen her, ma'am?"

"Perhaps I may. I have seen a number of nice old colored women
about here since I came..."

Because they are living on a plantation. And she didn't see a number of them, she saw one black quick-change artist. I'm actually going to skip most of the lines we're given by non-white characters, so I probably shouldn't go on about that so much because you'll have to take my word for it...

But, Elsie, will you tell me who taught
you about Jesus, and how long you have loved Him?"

"Ever since I can remember," replied the little girl earnestly;
"and it was dear old mammy who first told me how He suffered and
died on the cross for us." Her eyes filled with tears and her
voice quivered with emotion. "She used to talk to me about it just
as soon as I could understand anything," she continued; "and then
she would tell me that my own dear mamma loved Jesus, and had gone
to be with Him in heaven; and how, when she was dying, she put me
--a little, wee baby, I was then not quite a week old--into her
arms, and said, 'Mammy, take my dear little baby and love her, and
take care of her just as you did of me; and O mammy! be sure that
you teach her to love God.' Would you like to see my mamma, Miss

Aw, Elsie. Anyway, we learn that Elsie's mom was about 15 or 16 when she died.

"But, Elsie, I do not understand; are you not sister to Enna and
the rest, and is not Mrs. Dinsmore own mother to them all?"

"Yes, ma'am, to all of them, but not to me nor my papa. Their
brother Horace is my papa, and so they are all my aunts and

So Allison and Elsie make a Bible study date (as if the kid weren't steeping herself in her own religious brew enough) and Allison goes off to ask more about Elsie's backstory. To summarize: 17 year old marries rich 16 year old in secret marriage; parents are furious all around; 16 year old has baby; couple is separated by furious parents; mother promptly dies of broken heart, leaving her child; father leaves child of his union with same relatives who separated him from his bride and are not likely to be kind to her daughter.


"Oh! yes, she is well enough, and I often feel sorry for the
lonely little thing, but the truth is, I believe we are a little
jealous of her; she is so extremely beautiful, and heiress to such
an immense fortune. Mamma often frets, and says that one of these
days she will quite eclipse her younger daughters."

"We hate her because she's beautiful!"

"But then," said Rose, "she is almost as near; her own grand-

"No, she is not so very near," replied Adelaide, "for Horace is
not mamma's son. He was seven or eight years old when she married
papa, and I think she was never particularly fond of him."

Just so you know: we aren't going to see a good parent in these books. Even Elsie's nurse, through no fault of her own, might not count. She's married and separated from her husband, who was sold away; if she did have children, she wouldn't have seen much of them, since she's spent the last two decades raising Elsie's mother and Elsie.

"She is an odd child," said Adelaide; "I don't understand her; she
is so meek and patient she will fairly let you trample upon her.
It provokes papa. He says she is no Dinsmore, or she would know
how to stand up for her own rights; and yet she has a temper, I
know, for once in a great while it shows itself for an instant--
only an instant, though, and at very long intervals--and then she
grieves over it for days, as though she had committed some great
crime; while the rest of us think nothing of getting angry half a
dozen times in a day. And then she is forever poring over that
little Bible of hers; what she sees so attractive in it I'm sure I
cannot tell, for I must say I find it the dullest of dull books."

Again: Elsie's personal religion is so important to her that she will isolate herself within its barriers. In fact, since this is the man who separated her parents, it may be a kind of power play. Would her grandfather be kinder to her if she stood up to him? Sounds like he's made that clear. Does she want him to? Yes. Will she ever? No. Is she defying him, and holding herself apart, by not standing up to him? Sounds like it. Does that drive him crazy? Probably!

So rather than try to make Elsie look more sympathetic to the woman who's just said she doesn't understand the kid, Rose tells Elsie's aunt that she, Rose, is a horrible sinner who made God sad for years and years by not loving him, so she, Rose, is the worst person ever. She starts crying during this. Elsie's aunt brushes off the whole topic, probably thinking to herself that religious people are nutbars, and the chapter ends.

Our opener is a quote: "Thy injuries would teach patience to blaspheme/Yet still thou art a dove." I wonder if Elsie will suffer for her religious stance this chapter?

She starts off by crying, praying, feeling lots better, being industrious, apologizing to her teacher, getting scolded for it all again, and going off to seek perfection elsewhere... filler suffering, basically; this sort of thing is scattered throughout the rest of the book, to the point where it just becomes skimmable. Equally skimmable is Bible study time between Elsie and Rose. Cute and all, but Elsie D. has long stretches of no conflict and it's dull as dishwater.

"Come in," said Rose, and the door opened, and a very nice colored
woman of middle age, looking beautifully neat in her snow-white
apron and turban, entered with a low courtesy, asking, "Is my
little missus ready for bed now?"

This is Mammy. I'm sure you were very surprised to read what she was wearing. Her important characteristic is that she looks neat. You could go sledding off the pile of implications that this paragraph alone mounds up.

"Yes," said Elsie, jumping off Rose's lap; "but come here, mammy;
I want to introduce you to Miss Allison."

This is one of the few times Elsie gives an order. Everyone else, she asks.

"How do you do, Aunt Chloe? I am very glad to know you, since
Elsie tells me you are a servant of the same blessed Master whom I
love and try to serve," said Rose, putting her small white hand
cordially into Chloe's dusky one.

"'Deed I hope I is, missus," replied Chloe, pressing it fervently
in both of hers. "I's only a poor old black sinner, but de good
Lord Jesus, He loves me jes de same as if I was white, an' I love
Him an' all His chillen with all my heart."

The dialect-writing varies. At one point I was relieved when Chloe got really incomprehensible, because I could no longer hear her voice in my head and was free to replace what's on the page with my own interpretation. This was much affected by one of my chemo regimens futzing with my hearing so that everyone's voice had an echoing bass aftereffect, like a possessed-voice effect from a video game, for about a week. So I replaced Chloe's dialect with the voice of Mephistopheles on a bender, and all stereotypical gestures with echoing laughter. This was also when reading the book got fun. Since the Elsie Dinsmore books just taught us that some people are innately unloveable, and a good way to tell who these people are is by looking at them, and skin color is one indicator, it's past time to start doing this.

"Yes, Aunt Chloe," said Rose, "He is our peace, and hath made both
one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
so that we are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-
citizens with the saints and of the household of God; and are
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ himself being the chief corner-stone."

"But you're still a slave to my sister-in-Christ here. Thanks to your fellow slaves for cooking my meals and cleaning my room. Do I love any of them as my fellow-citizens, by the way?"

Chloe replies:

"Yes, ma'am. That's it for sure. I know that's in the Bible; and if we build on that blessed cornerstone we're all safe. I've heard it many times. It fills this old heart with joy and peace in believing." Chloe slowly laughed a deep, rolling laugh. "But goodnight, ma'am. I must put this child to bed."

"Good-night, Aunt Chloe; come in again," said Rose.

Achievement unlocked: Utterly Tone-Deaf!

"And good-night to you, too, dear little Elsie," folding the little girl
again in her arms.

"Isn't that a blessed young lady, dear?" Chloe said, helping Elsie with her bedtime ritual.

"O mammy, I love her so much! she's so good and kind," replied the
child, "and she loves Jesus, and loves to talk about Him."

"She's not as pretty as your mother. But then, I've never met a lady I thought as lovely as your mother was."

Elsie drew out the miniature and kissed it, murmuring, "Dear,
darling mamma," then put it back in her bosom again, for she
always wore it day and night. She was standing in her white night-
dress, the tiny white feet just peeping from under it, while Chloe
brushed back her curls and put on her night-cap.

"There, darling, now you're ready for bed," Chloe said, pausing only to break out into a second booming laugh before giving her a hug and a kiss.

"No, mammy, not quite," replied the little girl, and gliding away
to the side of the bed, she knelt down and offered up her evening
prayer. Then, coming back to the toilet table, she opened her
little Bible, saying, "Now, mammy, I will read you a chapter while
you are getting ready for bed."

The room was large and airy, and Aunt Chloe, who was never willing
to leave her nursling, but watched over her night and day with the
most devoted affection, slept in a cot bed in one corner.

"That's very good, Elsie. Thank you," Chloe answered fondly.

Aww. It'd be more charming and cuter if our dear little paragon of humility took the cot for herself and asked Chloe to sleep in the bed, but that's totally outside the bounds of Elsie-goodness, which is less about making others happy and more about making those in authority happy. That's also about as much Elsie as anyone needs to stand for a morning. I have to start clearing out this pile of implications or you'll never be able to get out of your kitchen. See? The work I do for you!


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January 2012

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