Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stroke of Midnight chapter one, Elsie chapter one

So we'll start with Stroke of Midnight, and move on to Elsie Dinsmore. Book the first:

So for once LKH starts the new book right on the heels of the old one. Merry is at a press conference to talk about her assassination attempt. And she hates it. But the Queen decided that letting the associated press into the sithen is a good idea. 

....aaaaaaannnnnnnd we can stop right there. This place is a funhouse of sexual abuse, sadism and cruelty, and it's chock-full of people that Andais has tortured and pissed off. ALL OF IT is pissed at Merry because Plot, and there are so many, MANY press people here the odds of a disgruntled Faerie taking one off into a corner for a secret-sharing session is really, REALLY high. Between the nasty shit Andais does and the large number of rules Merry has been breaking lately, having the press here should be the LAST thing Andais wants.

Even better: The opening descriptions are short, concise, and less flowery than usual. We still have the absurdities like the triple-color irises that can be seen from across a room, but we DON'T have things like "My hair was like garnets spun out into hair" or endless paragraphs about Merry's latest suit.

The press are trying to work out who got shot and who didn't. Merry smiles and answers absolutely nothing she doesn't have to. There's a moment of camera freak-out when they realize that Frost was the dude that got shot. Aaaaaand then this happens:

My guards were lined up along the wall, spilling down the edges of the dais, to curl on either side of the table and floor. They were dressed in everything from designer suits to full-plate body armor to Goth club wear.
There is a reason the secret service wear black suits. It's not because its trendy. Having your guards wear goth club wear, whatever the fuck that is, makes them look not, you know, like guards. I cannot for the life of me understand why ANYONE would do this.

When fey are nervous, any fey, we take comfort from touching one another.
And in the rest of the world, we call that being human. Meanwhile we find out that Frost's iris looks like a snow globe. Not kidding.

Chapter ends with Merry and Frost kissing. Well, it's not naked asses in pool chairs, but it's a start.

End of chapter. Yeah, I can tell this one's gonna be a real pot-boiler. /sarcasm.

Meanwhile, in Chapter One of Elsie Dinsmore...

Our story begins at Roselands, a plantation in the deep south owned by Mr. Horace Dinsmore Senior. We're in a classroom overseen by a governess named Ms. Day. And we don't make it three paragraphs in before we start dissing the characters who aren't Elsie.

She was giving a lesson to Enna, the youngest, the spoiled darling of the family, the pet and plaything of both father and mother. It was always a trying task to both teacher and scholar, for Enna was very wilful, and her teacher's patience by no means inexhaustible.
Yes. Because Spoiled Children are Bad. Do not expect great subtilty with this series, my darlings, because it's less morality play and more morality steamroller.

So we get a quick run-down of the family. Enna is the spoiled little kid. Arthur is the spoiled older kid.  Two kids go unnamed. Louise and Laura are...um, there. And then Ms. Day finally speaks to Elsie, our main character:

"...Elsie," to a little girl of eight, sitting alone at a desk near one of the windows, and bending over a slate with an appearance of great industry, "every figure of that example must be correct, your geography lesson recited perfectly, and a page in your copybook written without a blot."
 "Yes, ma'am," said the child meekly, raising a pair of large soft eyes of the darkest hazel for an instant to her teacher's face, and then dropping them again upon her slate.

And thus begins the book's most common theme: Elsie Gets Abused And Takes It With A Smile. I mean for fuck's sake, this kid is eight and she's writing with a goddamn dip pen. It's not gonna be perfect. But where none of the other kids are expected to be perfect--because they're Mr. Dinsmore's kids--Elsie gets punished if she makes the slightest mistake. See, she's actually Mr. Dinsmore's granddaughter. His oldest son, Horace Junior, had an impudent marrige to Elsie's mom, who died tragically in childbirth. So being a responsible human being, Horace took off for England, leaving his baby daughter in the hands of her scottish maid and her Mammy.

Yes. That kind of mammy. It's the antebellum south.

Then, for some reason, they decided to drag Elsie away from the scottish maid and send her to her grandfather's place, with the mammy, where she gets treated like a second class citizen. Everybody in the family knows they can do whatever shit they want to Elsie and not only will no one come to her defense, she'll do her best to cover for them because (drumroll please) it's the Christian Thing to Do.

As soon as the teacher leaves, Arthur starts tormenting Elsie. Elsie complains--loudly--that she can't do her homework if he keeps bothering her. Not, mind, that she doesn't like what he's doing. It's that she can't obey her teacher if he doesn't knock it off. Elsie's actual desires exist nowhere in this book. One of the older girls suggests that Elsie head off to the veranda so she can finish her homework in peace. Elsie's reply?

"Oh! no, Louise, I cannot do that, because it would be disobedience," replied Elsie, taking out her writing materials.
Arthur then jiggles her elbow so that she drops ink on the page. Elsie realizes she won't get a ride that was promised the other children. Arthur offers to rip out the page and let her start over, but she refuses because "that would be lying". 

"Elsie," exclaimed Louise, "I have no patience with you! such ridiculous scruples as you are always raising.
 Elsie just blows Louise off and waits for the teacher to come back and punish her. And she does, telling Elsie that she won't get the ride. One of the other girls tells the teacher what Arthur did, so Arthur has to stay home too. He pitches a fit. Meanwhile...

 In the meantime the little Elsie sat at her desk, striving to conquer the feelings of anger and indignation that were swelling in her breast; for Elsie, though she possessed much of "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit," was not yet perfect, and often had a fierce contest with her naturally quick temper. Yet it was seldom, very seldom that word or tone or look betrayed the existence of such feelings; and it was a common remark in the family that Elsie had no spirit.

....that's because she doesn't have any. She's a neglected little girl who is being emotionally abused by all her aunts and uncles, and she has such a poor sense of self-esteem she doesn't stand up for herself at all, ever. But this is being praised as a good thing here.

Mrs. Dinsmore then arrives and Ms. Day tells her that Elsie and Arthur are to stay home. Mrs. Dinsmore tells Arthur he can go anyway, but when it comes to Elsie...

"Elsie is not my child, and I have nothing to say about it. Miss Day, who knows all the circumstances, is much better able than I to judge whether or no she is deserving of punishment," replied Mrs. Dinsmore, sailing out of the room.

But, you know, it's not like this little girl is being physically abused. I mean--

 "Did I not order you to learn that lesson over?" said the governess, "and why are you sitting here idling?" .... "Why do you not speak?" she exclaimed, seizing Elsie by the arm and shaking her violently. "Answer me this instant. Why have you been idling all the morning?"
 "I have not," replied the child hastily, stung to the quick by her unjust violence. "I have tried hard to do my duty, and you are punishing me when I don't deserve it at all." 
"How dare you? there! take that for your impertinence," said Miss Day, giving her a box on the ear.

....And there we go. Meanwhile, a horrific caricature of a black man tells the other students that the carrige is here for the ride, and Mrs. Day leaves Elsie alone in the classroom for a moment. And then this happens.

She laid down the geography, and opening her desk, took out a small pocket Bible, which bore the marks of frequent use.
Oh no. Oh God. This is going to be utterly ghastly, isn't it?

"For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps."
Oh. My. Fucking. God. OH MY GOD. NO. NO THEY DID NOT. THEY ARE NOT COMPARING THE SUFFERINGS AND ENDURANCE OF CHRIST AND MARTYRS TO MOTHERFUCKING CHILD ABUSE. They did. They actually did. Martha Finley is actually implying that you should take abuse "patiently" because it makes you more Christ-like.

And to make it even better:

"Oh! I have not done it. I did not take it patiently. I am afraid I am not following in His steps," she cried, bursting into an agony of tears and sobs.
We have an abused eight year old comparing herself to Christ and judging herself as wanting because she can't take physical abuse without crying and feeling indignant. Oh. My. God.

And that doesn't begin to approach the massive error in interpretation the kid is making here. She's something called biblically illiterate. Biblical Illiteracy is what happens when you can technically read the bible, but you're unable to actively understand what's being written. When you can't understand the words on the page, you require an intermediary--ie, a pastor--to interpret the words for you. Which is where a lot of bullshit comes into play, because these guys can twist the scripture to say whatever they want. The KJV english was out of date when this book was written, let alone now. Someone said that if you can't read Shakespere for fun, without cliffnotes and a thesaurus to understand it, you've got no business using the 1611 KJV as your primary scripture.

There is no way in fuck an eight-year-old is at that reading level. And she's interpreting everything very, very, very literally, without the social or historical context. And speaking of context, there is none for those verses. Context is very important, especially if you are trying to regulate the behavior of an eight year old. So it's time for bible shit, my darlings!

This is 1st Peter 2: 19-21. It's a letter written from one early Christian leader (we assume it was the Apostle Peter) to an early Christian church in an era when "Christian" evoked the same reaction that "Satanist" does today, only with more killing. First Peter 2 is about living a respectable life, not because it's a commandment of God (there are several places in both Peter's writings and the Paulene letters that state Christians are no longer under biblical law) but because it gives the public--many of whom were using every excuse they could to kill Christians--less to latch onto. Peter here is saying that yeah, if you live a clean life you're probably going to get persecuted anyway, but it'll give praise to God and it'll make your enemies look bad.

Oh, but there's another fun wrinkle to this passage. See, Finley only quoted verses 19-21. Why did she leave out verse 18?

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
Yes. Let's have an eight year old PLANTATION LANDOWNER use instructions for ROMAN-ERA SLAVES to judge herself for not submitting patiently to CHILD ABUSE.

 So while Elsie is beating herself up for not enduring abuse with a patient smile, one of her few friends comes in the room. Rose Allison. Elise quickly tells Rose that the worst part is not missing the treat from unfair punishment, oh, no. It's that she's failed to be like Jesus. 


Well, maybe Ms. Allison will do the right thing and straighten her out. I mean, the woman's also a Christian, so--

"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 sins.'"
...So we're telling the abused eight year old that not accepting her abuse cheerfully is a failing on her part, but it's okay because Jesus has forgiven her.


"Yes, dear child, we must grieve for our sins when we remember that they helped to slay the Lord.

Dear fucking God, this child is eight. She's eight fucking years old. Who the hell talks to an eight year old like this? AND CAN THIS GET WORSE

yes. Yes it can.

"Will you love me? Oh! how glad I am," exclaimed the child joyfully; "I have nobody to love me but poor old mammy."
 "And who is mammy?" asked the lady.
 "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.
Elsie owns slaves. The Dinsmores all own slaves. The horrible caricature of a black man I mentioned earlier? He was one of them.

And it turns out that "Mammy" is the one responsible for most of Elsie's religious education, and that's the first thing that's made goddamn sense in this entire theological fuck-storm. "Mammy" would have been spoon-fed the "control the slaves" version of Christianity, where you do whatever the masters tell you because your suffering is like Christ's. It was a disgusting form of theology and it has yet to die the horrible death it deserves, and OF COURSE it would have fucked this little girl up about as hard as it did an entire generation of black people.

Ms. Allison prays with Elsie for a few minutes and then heads off to do whatever it is adults do in this hell hole.

And while the chapter isn't done, I'm going to stop there and take this back up tomorrow.

Yeah, this is gonna be a fun trip all around.


  1. this is reminding me of how much I loathe religious abuse. it's a topic that makes the rage monster come out.

  2. I think I need a shower and we're only in chapter one.

  3. Um wow! Words fail me.....

  4. So Elsie is basically a mistreated young Dickens protagonist, but in America, and portrayed by a writer who has none of Dickens' basic social awareness or snark?

    1. And then recycled back into modern times so that an entire generation of little girls will try to imitate her. Yep.