Elsie Dinsmore’s Father’s Nose

Men in 19th century novels were described differently from the way men are described today. Often they had an “aquiline” nose, another one of those words I don’t remember running into anywhere else until this morning on the RagTag Daily Prompt. I remember reading it in Elsie Dinsmore books, 19th century moral lesson novels for girls by Martha Finley. Eight year old Elsie lived in the South, belongs to a wealthy, slave-owning family, and had many, many, many lessons to learn from everyone, but mostly from her strict father, Horace, who, as I recall, had an aquiline nose.

Elsie, though a little girl, is a very devout Christian and this causes a terrible fight between her and her father, but, ultimately, as God works in mysterious ways, after Elsie suffers incredibly, her father comes around and becomes a Christian himself. The books go on through Elsie’s childhood to her life as a grandmother.

I got the first one as a gift from my mom. It was a paperback reprint. She and her sisters had LOVED Elsie Dinsmore in their childhood out there on the high plains of Montana. More interesting than Elsie Dinsmore were my mom’s stories of hiding in the hayloft with an Elsie Dinsmore book.

I have an old copy from 1887. I bought it out of nostalgia. At a certain point when I was a kid, I realized I didn’t like these books not because they are propaganda — children’s books are usually propaganda and, even as a kid, I expected to learn lessons from books — but because there is just something sinister about them. You can judge. In this scene, Lulu, Elsie’s headstrong little daughter, has displeased her father. This is what she gets for it…

Kind of normal for these books. Elsie’s father stopped talking to HER for several months. If I had a little girl, I probably would not have shared Elsie Dinsmore. I wonder what I would have given her to read on those sunny days when she wanted to hide in the equivalent of a Southern California hayloft with a book. I don’t know.

The featured photo is the cover of my Elsie book. It’s embossed pansies, but they are hard to see. Still, the book is 140 years old…


25 thoughts on “Elsie Dinsmore’s Father’s Nose

  1. As soon as I saw the tittle of the post my first though was “Cyrano.”

    There was no book series that I gave my daughter to read, just a lot of individual books I thought would be interesting. There’s less fun literature for girls than for boys, literature about feisty girls who triumph over adevsity. They couldn’t have written a Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn about a girl and AFAIK, still don’t today.

  2. I read ‘little women’ and ‘what Katy did’ and ‘what Katy did next’ when I was young. I don’t remember the stories now… When I chose books at school the American ones were Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I also read lots of sci-fi…

  3. I’d never heard of those books, very disturbing. I loved Little Women, What Katy Did etc. ,I read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn too, nobody told me they were boys books. I am sure I read a couple of Nancy Drew’s and series like Donna Parker and Trixie Belden plus a lot of British books which I loved by authors like Elinor Brent Dyer, Noel Streatfield, Mabel Esther Allan and others. I confess I still get these out and reread them once in a while.

  4. It does tell you something about a time and a place. It is funny how when you read those books again, you realise that nothing much has changed. I was quite the fan of Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series. Also Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Also a book from another country, Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri. Also Nancy Drew and the Hardy Brothers.
    As for aquiline noses, there were a lot of them in those bodice rippers that I am embarrassed to say that I used to read as a young teenager. Definitely hayloft stuff.

  5. That is the most sinister children’s book/story I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe because it was so close to home. The long “silent treatment” so to speak was often used during my childhood. I felt for Lulu. I loved the Nancy Drew books and biographies for kids – although there were not many about girls – but I loved them all. Plus Tom Sawyer and the gang. 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s pretty grim and, I think, sadistic. I liked those biographies for kids, too. I never had any problem identifying with the men the books were about. I wonder how many girls also didn’t care all that much but figured they could be Beethoven or Louis Pasteur? The only woman in the series we had at school was Marie Curie.

      • Definitely sadistic. It’s an awful way to be punished because it is really shaming.
        Those books were such a cool window into another world…people’s stories!! 🙂

  6. Yikes. That is horrible literature for children. Heck it is awful for adults too! I was never into most series. I had to read the Little House on the Prairie for school followed by Farmer Boy. After that I had had enough of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I preferred Sherlock Holmes. I also read every Edgar Rice Burroughs book I could find. Sadly they don’t hold up over time. We borrowed the Disney Movie “Song of the South” from saintvi. It has taken a lot of flack for being racist and demeaning. And it is an uncomfortable movie given today’s sensitivities, however it does show the attitudes that were present when it was made in 1946…

    • I think people need to step back and see how far we’ve come (most of us) from 1946 to now and watch all the old movies for what’s beautiful about them and what they tell us. I remember reading Little Black Sambo and thinking he was really brave to turn the tigers into butter. 🙂

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