November is the perfect time to re-read old favourites, so when Olduvai reminded me that Jean Webster’s novel would fit perfectly into my epistolary Fridays, it wasn’t long before I was re-reading.
I first read this book the summer that I was eleven, the first summer in which I was allowed to walk downtown to the library by myself.
When I brought it back, I sat in the backyard and read it straight-through. This time I was sitting in front of the heater wrapped in a quilt, but I still read it straight through.
Jerusha Abbott is the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home, until a trustee takes an interest in her future and sends her to college.
There are some conditions, however; he is to remain anonymous, and she is to write a letter to him monthly.
Why a letter? He thinks “nothing so fosters facility in literary expression as letter writing”, and in this way he can track her progress.
Ironically, her mysterious benefactor, whom she addresses as Daddy-Long-Legs because the only glimpse she had of him was his folding his long frame into an automobile, does care for writing letters.
So this is a one-way narrative by Jerusha. Er, Judy, which is what she goes by at school.
College is even more of an adjustment for her than for other eighteen-year-old girls. She is not only spending more time with other people her own age than she has ever done, but she is also spending more time alone as well.
In all, she is only now beginning to know her self. And the letters play an important role in that process. Daddy-Long-Legs is the perfect unknown, and Judy writes her letters every few days instead of once a month.
It’s also a delightfully bookish chronicle because Judy has to make up for lost reading time as she plans to be a writer.
“One book isn’t enough. I have four going at once. Just now, they’re Tennyson’s poems and Vanity Fair and Kipling’s Plain Tales and – don’t laugh – Little Women. I find that I am the only girl in college who wasn’t brought up on Little Women.”
Well, that’s near the beginning. Four isn’t enough for long.
“I can’t see how any girl could have written such a book, especially any girl who was brought up in a churchyard. There’s something about these Brontës that fascinates me. Their books, their lives, their spirit. Where did they get it?”
But these are exciting times for Judy and it’s not all about the books. She is coming into her own, and the reader gets a bird’s eye view as she pours the details onto the page.
Daddy-Long-Legs is a sweet tale, perfect for either a sunny, summer afternoon or a bitterly cold November one.
Have you read these letters? Or the sequel? Or one of Jean Webster’s other novels that feature a feisty independent girl?