Books and Musings from Downunder

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster


Finished: 31/01/11

Genre: Young Adult/Classic

Rated: A

Opening Sentence: “…The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day–a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste…”

How have I managed to live over half a century and not come across this wonderful classic coming of age story?

Eighteen year old Jerusha (Judy) Abbott has been brought up at the John Grier Home, an orphanage. The children are completely dependent on charity and had to wear other people’s cast-off clothes. Even their names were second hand, Judy’s unusual first name was selected by the matron off a grave stone and her surname was picked out of the phone book. Once the children reached the age of sixteen they are expected to leave and make their own way in the world, however Judy has stayed on to assist with the younger children.

One Wednesday, after the monthly board meeting of trustees, she is told by the matron that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. Normally he subsidises the education of one of the boys, however after speaking to her former teachers he thinks she has potential to become an excellent writer. He decides to pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance and in return Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity; she must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy subsequently goes off to college and her story is told through her letters to ‘Dear Daddy Long Legs’. Judy names him Daddy Long Legs because the only glimpse she had of him was his lanky shadow as he left the orphanage.

Judy has a wonderful time at college. She makes new friends and studies many subjects that are entirely new to her. To begin with though she feels very strange and isolated because she has little in common with the other girls, but her wonderful character shines through and she soon has many friends, a couple of bosom buddies and receives the attentions of some very eligible young men, especially Jervis (Jervie) Pendleton. She discusses every thing with ‘Daddy’ her joys, her disappointments, the good times and the bad – she hold nothing back. Over the four years of her studies she often begs him to give her some more information so she knows who she is writing to, and comes up with some ludicrous ideas of what he might look like. Eventually all is revealed as Judy leaves College with her coveted diploma and looks to the future. I have to say that the ending was not a surprise to me, but that didn’t matter at all. It is the content that makes this book such a great read – written almost a hundred years ago it covers women’s issues that are still important today – women’s rights, education, happiness, identity and, of course, love.