Review: Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Monday, January 25, 2010

Title: Daddy-Long-Legs
Author: Jean Webster
Genre: Classics
First Published: 1912
Publisher: Scholastic
Source: Library
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, A to Z Challenge, Support your Local Library Reading Challenge
181 pages




On the flap
The matron at the orphanage is always telling Judy Abbott that her imagination will get her into trouble. But nothing she ever imagined is as surprising as what really happens to her.

A wealthy trustee of the orphanage offers to send Judy to college - but he doesn't want her to know who he is. All she ever sees of him is his shadow - all arms and legs like a daddy-long-legs. Judy calls her generous benefactor Daddy-Long-Legs but with her imagination it can't be long before she finds out his real name.

I didn't have this book in my TBR nor had I heard of it till a week ago, when I came across some raving reviews in the Blogosphere. The description sounded interesting enough for me to request for the book at the library. Also it was a quick read, just 181 pages. I wasn't planning on reading it right away, but having started it one day at the gym, I couldn't put it away.

My opinion
Barring the first chapter, the whole book consists of a series of letters that Jerusha / Judy writes to the mysterious trustee who sponsors her college education. In spite of knowing nothing about the person to whom the letters are addressed, Judy writes in a totally unabashed manner, demonstrating boldness, respect, indignation, affection, empathy, and humor in her letters.

Although she was told to address her benefactor as "John Smith", she hesitates to call him by a name that lacks "personality".

There are just three things that I know:

I. You are tall.
II. You are rich.
III. You hate girls.

I suppose I might call you Dear Mr. Girl-Hater. Only that's rather insulting to me. Or Dear Mr. Rich-Man, but that's insulting to you, as though money were the only important thing about you. Besides, being rich is such a very external quality. Maybe you won't stay rich all your life; lots of very clever men get smashed up in Wall Street. But at least you will stay tall all your life! So I've decided to call you Dear Daddy-Long-Legs.
Not only bold, but also brash!

Over the course of four years, she addresses him by several different names and also, changes her name in the letters several times. She writes usually on a whim, sometimes regretting what she wrote a letter ago. Her letters also acquaint us with her friends and her opinions of them, the subject she is currently fascinated of annoyed with at school and more than once, makes that the topic of her letter.

Although it is written in the form of a journal, Jean Webster does a good job revealing Judy's character through her letters. Her ramblings over her four years at college shows her transformation from a freshman who hasn't heard of Michelangelo (Michael Angelo, according to Judy), or Maurice Maeterlinck, and hasn't read Mother Goose, David Copperfield, Ivanhoe or Cinderella, to someone wiser, well-read and more intelligent than when she started.

Her changing opinions on different matters made for very interesting reading. Be it political or religious beliefs or how to manage an orphanage home (or asylum as she put it). She frequently talks about women getting voting rights and how men will then have to fight for theirs. Her lovely imagination and quirky humor was felt throughout the book. I definitely got the picture of a very intelligent girl who questions conventions (even if some of them aren't practical).

Sixth-hour bell--I must go to the laboratory and look into a little matter of acids and salts and alkalis. I've burned a hole as big as a plate in the front of my chemistry apron, with hydrochloric acid. If the theory worked, I ought to be able to neutralize that hole with good strong ammonia, oughtn't I?
You see what I mean? :)

Much as she is disappointed that her benefactor does not reveal himself or even correspond, other than through his secretary, she never hesitates to express her gratitude to him for having sponsored her education. While she occasionally does send him an angry or indignant letter, she quickly regrets that.

Once in a while, Judy's letters contain illustrations that act as accompaniment to what she is writing about. Most of these illustrations are pretty humorous. There is an illustration of herself having gained weight. Another illustration featuring eight cows and a ninth cow whose rear half is shown to indicate that one cow went missing. There is an interesting illustration of "a spider on the end of a string", only it's not a spider but Judy herself learning to swim.

Overall, this was a real fun read, with many a hilarious instance. Judy's charm and wit definitely engaged me and left me asking for more. I now look forward to reading its sequel, Dear Enemy.

Title Demystified
As the summary states, this is the name that Judy gives to her mysterious benefactor, whose only striking feature she noticed is the shadow of his long legs. I'm sure if I didn't know the synopsis of the book, I would still pick this one up to read, just going by the catchy intriguing name.

Cover Art Demystified
My edition of Daddy-Long-Legs features a girl (presumably Judy / Jerusha) seated by her window gazing out. She also happens to be in the midst of writing in a notebook. So I would assume she's either writing to Daddy-Long-Legs, or most likely, writing a story to pursue her dream of being an author. The book does describe a few scenes where she sits by the window to get inspiration while writing a story, esp in the Farm she goes to during the summer.

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

8 comments:

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this story a lot when I read it, also inspired by Ana's review. I liked this one much more than the sequel, though I guess that one has a deeper story. I just thought Judy was fun- and she was such a mixture of a fun and loneliness.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

How interesting. I've never heard of this before.

dArLyN said...

i've remember some time like ages ago there was an anime based on this book. i love the anime and it was so lovable..but havent yet read this book. i bet this one also as good as the anime..nice review =p

Aths said...

Aarti, I'm with you! How Judy manages to joke even when circumstances aren't in her favor (like when Daddy-Long-Legs tells her not to go to Sallie's place for the camp) is just beyond me. She's definitely someone I would love to know!

Juju, it's a good read, and a short one, hope you read it sometime!

dArLyN, Ooohh, let me check out the anime too then, I'm sure it would have been a fun read! Judy's humor would have been perfect for an anime!

Mars said...

Just finished reading it, really enjoyed it. But didn't find it too surprising with who her trustee turns out to be. It's sad that the author died before she could write more stories.

Athira / Aths said...

I didn't see that coming at all, but then it being a classic, I didn't imagine that it would be about a young girl in love with an adult man. Strange, since I had no trouble with reading Jane Eyre.

Loraine said...

What a comprehensive review! :) Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/12/daddy-long-legs-by-jean-webster.html

Thanks and have a nice day! :D

Athira / Aths said...

Thank you!