Olde Tyme morality tales

If I believed in such things, this would be quite the providential week. The timing was pretty impressive when I finished a book about education just as Libby Anne asked “What is the purpose of public education.” Now just days after reading Tracey’s recap of Elsie Dinsmore I run into the perfect response to that kind of over-dramatic morality tale.

In a collection titled The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain I stumbled across a story that I had never heard before called simply The Story of the Bad Little Boy. Apparently Mark Twain found stories like Elsie Dinsmore just as irritating and he lampoons the style to great effect. Given Elsie’s near-death experience, this part in particular tickled my funny bone.

He struck his little sister on the temple with his fist when he was angry, and she didn’t linger in pain through long summer days, and die with sweet words of forgiveness upon her lips that redoubled the anguish of his breaking heart. No; she got over it.

There’s a matching story, The Story of the Good Little Boy, that comes at it from a different angle. The good boy, Jacob Blivens, cannot catch a break no matter how good he behaves or virtuous he is.

According to a University of Virginia site dedicated to Mark Twain, the naughty boy’s tale was first published in 1865 and the story about the virtuous boy came out five years later.

So it’s mildly satisfying that there has been eye rolling about Elsie Dinsmore and its ilk for at least 150 years.


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