Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

"One can’t help thinking, Daddy, what a colorless life a man is forced to lead, when one reflects that chiffon and venetian point and hand embroidery and Irish crochet are to him mere empty words. Whereas a woman, whether she is interested in babies or microbes or husbands or poetry or servants or parallelograms or gardens or Plato or bridge-is fundamentally and always interested in clothes.”

    I read Daddy-Long-Legs as part of my classics challenge about a month ago but I’m only now getting around to writing about it. This is largely because it not an easy book to write about. Let me explain. Daddy-Long-Legs has no real plot. Well, it does, but its wafer thin and quite unremarkable. It also has just one real character: Jerusha a.k.a Judy. While other people are mentioned, they exist only as part of Judy’s narrative. Judy herself doesn’t really do very much and nothing very much happens to her either. All of this isn’t meant to imply that the book is boring. Hardly that. But it is difficult to write about without getting down to a textbook analysis of a very adorable character.

     To summarize briefly; Daddy-Long-Legs is an epistolary novel about an orphan, Judy, who has been given the chance to go to college by an unknown benefactor. This benefactor, whom Judy calls Daddy-Long-Legs because of his long legged shadow, expects her to update him about her life through regular letters. Judy enthusiastically obliges and we ‘see’ her life at college and beyond, play out through those letters.

     I hate to resort to a cliché and call this a coming-of-age tale, but I’m afraid it does belong to that category. However, this is less Catcher in the Rye and more Anne of Green Gables with a little added spirit and insight. The evolution of the letters in terms of style, tone and content is interesting.  Judy’s observations about the world around her, the people she meets and her own developing character are the most engaging and endearing parts of the book. Since she has never seen or heard Daddy-Long-Legs, he is almost an imaginary character to her and so she is able to write to him with absolute candor.

“We had a bishop this morning and what do you think he said?
"The most beneficent promise made us in the Bible is this,'The poor ye have always with you.' They were put here in order to keep us charitable."
The poor, please observe, being a sort of useful domestic animal. If I hadn't grown into such a perfect lady, I should have gone up after service and told him what I thought.” 

     This book is worth reading for Judy alone. It’s a small book and a very easy read. If you liked Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, you’ll probably like this one too.  


  1. A new one for me. Interesting post.

  2. This is also a new to me writer. I also like epistolary novels so I will look for this-thanks very much

  3. Daddy Longlegs can be downloaded from Manybook (date 1912)

    thanks again to Che for letting us know about this very interesting sounding book

  4. I'll look into the book. I've heard of the movie adaptations (and I think a while ago I even saw the one with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron), but I never gave much thought to the book itself. I know what you mean too by not much happening in a book, at least on the surface, but it still being engaging nonetheless.

  5. Very interesting post. I've heard of this book but never read it (or seen the movie), from some reason it never pulled me.
    Now I'm thinking about giving it a chance.