Elsie’s Womanhood

February 7, 2008

Elsie’s Womanhood is kind of bizarre and segmented. First there’s the bit where Elsie and Mr. Travilla tell everyone that they’re engaged, and the reactions are an entertaining mix of not at all surprised and disturbed by the age difference. Which, you know, was pretty much my reaction too. This bit also includes Elsie’s uncle Arthur — you know, the one who set Tom Jackson on her — telling her that he wouldn’t mind marrying her himself. It’s as if the fact that her father has allowed her to become engaged has left a vaguely incestuous blank that desperately needed to be filled. And now that’s been done, so let’s move on.

Then we have the Oh, Didn’t You Realize That This Was Set Before the Civil War? bit. Mr. Dinsmore, alarmed at the thought that he’s not going to have Elsie all to himself anymore, whisks her off to spend a few weeks at Viamede, the plantation in Louisiana where her mother was raised. On the way there, they run into her mammy Aunt Chloe’s husband Joe, who had been sold away from Viamede many years before. Elsie buys him back in order to oblige Aunt Chloe, and when Joe tells them that he knows where one of their grandchildren is working as a servant in New Orleans, Elsie buys her too.

Viamede is nice, except that when they get there, they find the overseer beating one of the slaves. Elsie is pretty upset, and wants to fire the guy, until everyone — i.e. her father and the other slaves — tells her that the slave in question was pretty lazy, and that the overseer was just working hard for Elsie’s interests. So instead of firing him, she ends up thanking him.

While at Viamede, they receive a visit from Harold Allison, Rose’s brother. He’s in love with Elsie, and apparently no one’s told him she’s engaged, so he proposes and humiliates himself and leaves, and it’s all kind of angsty in a very entertaining way. I like Harold Allison, actually. I can’t think of any reason for him to be less insipid than any of the other men, but he somehow is. Walter Dinsmore is like that too.

Before Elsie and Mr. Travilla get married, they have a bit of a scare when Tom Jackson shows up and threatens to kill Mr. Travilla, but gets bored and leaves before he gets a chance to do so. So Elsie gets married, and, as if we weren’t all concerned enough already about how often Elsie equates her father and her love interest, they go to Viamede for their honeymoon and Elsie talks a lot about how much it is like her trip there with her dad.

Tom Jackson tries to kill them at some point, but all he gets for his trouble is a bullet hole in his arm. This storyline isn’t half as exciting as it’s supposed to be.

Soon Elsie has a couple of kids. As usual, they come without warning. Also, Mr. Travilla’s mother dies, and Mr. Dinsmore takes the whole family off to Europe to take their mind off it, just in time for Part II: The Civil War, in which most of the young males of their acquaintance die, and everyone complains about Abe Lincoln a lot.

So. Walter dies. Arthur dies. Several of Rose’s brothers die. Harry Carrington, who I also sort of like, dies. Harold Allison and Aunt Wealthy’s nephew Harry Duncan, in a sequence sort of reminiscent of a buddy film, meet up in the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, bond over mutual acquaintances and shared religious beliefs, and escape together.

Eventually the war ends and the Dinsmores come home. Elsie has acquired a couple more children — she now has Elsie, Eddie, Violet, and Harold, named after Harold Allison, who is dying. Because they all live in the south, there’s obviously been a bit of wear and tear on everyone’s homes, but this poses no problem to Elsie’s fabulous wealth, and in practically no time, they’ve rebuilt Travilla’s house and half the neighborhood beside. And so we close on an idyllic scene of Elsie’s children at play and Elsie’s husband talking about how much he “coveted” Elsie when she was eight. I think Martha Finley realized that she hadn’t filled her grossness quota yet and added it at the last minute.


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