Elsie Dinsmore

Elsie Dinsmore
The world of Elsie was touching at times, frustrating occasionally, but mostly either exasperating or revolting. I'd better explain this, as many Christians in my circles highly esteem the books. This review only covers the first book - I have no idea what happens later.

The center of the book is Elsie's relationship with her father. The two primary issues are his approval and his faith. In both cases, while seeking to make a biblical point, the author goes to great excess that ought to be avoided.

Elsie is cravenly dependent on her father's approval. The book tries to show, I think, how important the influence of a father is, with which I disagree not at all. But in the extreme of what actually happens, the reader can be easily misled. Father's every look away or harsh word leaves her crestfallen, while his every look to her, smile, or tender word, nourishes and waters her. The point is a good one, but is overdone. This was the exasperating part.

I found two contradictions especially disturbing in the book. Elsie's devotional life - time with the Lord - is sweet and cherished, but is overwhelmed by her earthly father's poor relationship. This is understandable for a little girl, perhaps. Worse is the way she tries to work for her dad's favor. Again, this may be the author trying to show the damage of a bad father more than holding up as good the attempt to earn dad's approval. But it's a functional denial of justification by grace, which right doctrine is explicitly stated at one point in the book, through Elsie's own lips. She knows it is only by faith that her Father in heaven will accept her - there is nothing she can do to earn it. But most of the book is devoted to Elsie trying to figure out what she can do to earn her earthly father's favor. The denial of justification by grace alone comes out most egregiously in Elsie's assumptions of the Sabbath. At one point, she just knows her father can't know the Lord, because he asks her to play a secular song on Sunday.

There is another functional denial in the book - of total depravity. Elsie does no wrong, on purpose, and her character is sketched this way quite purposely, it seems. The book communicates that with enough piety one could get out from under our sinful nature. Thus, in all the suffering we face, the fault lies with the persecutor - it could never be our fault.

The revolting part was the father's behavior to his daughter early on: uninterested, cold, strict and harsh. While the father grows out of this to be engaged and tender, it is dealt with ambiguously. Did he act that way formerly on purpose as something she needed from him? That is implied at times. The priorities in the book were all skewed, here. Elsie promptly obeys his every strict command, reasonable or not. But when asked to play a secular song on Sunday she refuses. This is so exaggerated, that I can easily see this book used to encourage putting up with parental abuse, verbal, emotional or physical. Just so long as you don't have a secular thought on Sunday.

However, there are other admirable aspects of the book, like the way Elsie resists peer pressure to dishonor her father, and how she does bear up under teasing and trials, and how the father becomes more tender to Elsie. But overall it does not paint the picture of piety I'm looking for in my children.

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