Jerusha Abbott grew up in an orphanage but was sent to college by a mysterious benefactor she calls Daddy-Long-Legs. Finally, after Jerusha--now Judy--graduates, she asks to meet her benefactor.
Webster, Jean. 1912 [Genre: epistolary]
I can't even remember now where I first heard about Daddy-Long-Legs. It seems to be one of those lesser known classics and it certainly wasn't one I came across during childhood. But it's been on my to-read pile somehow or another for over a year now, just waiting on my kindle. I'm glad I finally picked it up!
Jerusha is an Anne-of-Green-Gables type character. An orphan, she is kept on by the orphanage longer than most so she can complete high school after someone identifies a talent for English. However, at age 17 she can no longer stay and has few prospects ahead of her, until a mysterious benefactor offers to send her to college with the aim of her becoming a writer, on the condition that she write to him monthly about her progress and daily life, without any expectation of a return letter.
The bulk of the epistolary novel is taken up by Jerusha's growth through university. She goes from being a shy, awkward and out of place girl with a patchy knowledge of the world around her, to a vivacious, social, charming and intelligent woman. Swiftly renaming herself Judy, it's delightful to watch her grow into herself and make efforts at self-improvement (such as embarking on a serious reading program). Her relationship with Daddy-long-legs (the nickname she gives her mysterious benefactor, having only seen his shadow on a wall, his lankyness reminding her of the spider) also grows delightfully over time - despite rarely receiving an acknowledgment from him, she comes to view him as her only family. Brother/uncle/father/mother/grandmother are all rolled into one and through her letters it is obvious that she comes to regard the mysterious man with true familiar affection. Over time, the relationships changes again in a most realistic way; as Judy becomes more confident in herself she questions why her benefactor never reveals himself to her and begins to rebel against his plans for her life, wanting to rely only upon herself.
I enjoyed Daddy-long-legs immensely. As an early example of what we would now probably call 'New Adult' it's perfect - concentrating on Judy's struggles to rise above her background and make something of herself, off her own back, in a setting where women still had few options. The lack of romance for the majority of the novel is refreshing and when it does enter onto the scene, it's subtly done.
Other readers have pointed out two major problems with Daddy-long-legs, which are perhaps account for it being less-loved today: [WARNING: SPOILERS] that Judy 'gives up' her education in order to marry soon after graduating, and who that marriage is too. To be honest, I found neither aspect problematic. Judy marrying is seen by many as anti-feminist, but to me Daddy-long-legs is a feminist triumph. Judy uses her own intelligence and good cheer to make something of herself and improve her character - although Daddy-long-legs assists her financially, it becomes obvious by the later parts of the novel that she is more than able to support herself and makes efforts to do so, in order to not be dependant on him. When she marries, it is obvious that it is her own choice and is for love, not obligation. How is that anti-feminist?
As for her choice of husband . . . I can see where the critics are coming from. Personally, I saw it coming less than 20% into the novel and although the relationship certainly has problematic aspects, there are things to remember: the context of the time within which the novel was written (where the age gap and manner of meeting would not be considered problematic, the age gap at least being extremely normal) and that by the time of the confession of love, Judy has established herself as independent, having firmly put her benefactor in his place as to his ability to rule over her life. Although it is not stated, one imagines that Daddy-long-legs learnt from Judy's assertions about her life being her own. [SPOILERS END]
Overall? I loved Daddy-long-legs. It's sweet, touching and offers an insight into the time it was written. 5/5 stars.
Daddy-longs-legs is one of my picks for the 2014 TBR challenge and I'm also counting it towards the 20th Century Classic category for the Back to the Classics challenge