Book Review: (Rereading) Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
How Excited Was I To Re-Read This Book? 5/5. I remember thinking this book was really fun when I first stumbled upon it. And then it became an old favorite. I was curious to see if it had stood the test of time… plus, you can download it for free on your kindle!
How Excited Was I After I Read This Book? 5/5. It’s charming still.
Book Rating: 4/5. As a modern reader, I have to knock it down one star for the kinda odd relationship – though it does feel like a product of a different time and does not detract from my enjoyment of the book!
Book Jacket: Jerusha Abbott has grown up in the John Grier Home for orphans. As the oldest, she is in charge of the younger children. An anonymous benefactor on the Board, “Mr. Smith,” decides to send her to college, as long as she writes to him faithfully detailing her education. Originally published in 1912, Jean Webster’s coming-of-age tale continues to be relevant to young women today. Through a series of letters Jerusha writes to “Daddy-Long-Legs,” a relationship filled with affection and respect develops.
Review: Jerusha Abbott is an orphan, whose name is pulled together from the Bible and the phone book, a rather perfect combination. She prefers to go by “Judy,” which suits our plucky young heroine to a T.
The book is told through her letters to an anonymous benefactor whom she christens Daddy Long Legs after a glimpse of a shadow she surmised belonged to him. I love epistolary fiction done right. Things that make this right: Judy has a very distinct (and distinctly humorous) voice. You definitely root for her and want to be her friend. Her enthusiasm for all things college (this is set over those four years) is infectious. Also, her letters are often accompanied by charming little drawings (of the stick figure variety) that complement the style perfectly. Judy’s drawing of her bandaged head when she’s sick will make you laugh and groan.
The letters allow us to join Judy as she experiences friendship, love, and, well, FUN for the first time. And what fun they have! It’s very old-fashioned and wholesome and will have you longing to make homemade candy or go for an impromptu sledding outing. Those sorts of things. Oh, and live on a farm for a summer. (My younger self was smart enough to realize that maybe life wasn’t always so idyllic, but I still enjoyed the escapism of reading about it! Turns out that holds true today!)
The main conflict in the book revolves around Judy’s desire to be independent and the occasional strain that her difficult background and reliance on an unknown benefactor places on her choices and relationships. But really, there isn’t too much strain at all. This is a quick, light read. Lots of good lessons are contained therein though! When Judy resolves to really try to like math, I resolve to really try all sorts of difficult things too! There’s lots of self-improvement, but not in a preachy way. In a fun way! Because her own struggles in that direction are alternately funny and very sincere.
Unresolved-But-Maybe-Later-Resolved-Sexual-Tension: Well this category does not apply so well to a classic like Daddy Long Legs, but there is romance! I don’t want to spoil it too much, so just avert your eyes for a bit if you want to be surprised- though most readers will see this one coming. Judy does end up falling in love with her benefactor. And they do have kind of a weird relationship – he’s trying to control/spoil her, she thinks he is always right… He’s older and wealthy and putting her through college and, oh wait, courting her without saying who he really is.
On the other hand, how could he tell her? And how could you not fall in love with Judy? I’d have done the same! And this book was written in 1912… I just wish she’d had a different nickname for him…
Bonus Fred Astaire Movie Review: So the kinda (I hate to say it!) creepy factor is actually most obvious to anyone who has seen the musical. In the movie, Judy – here named Julie (played by Leslie Caron) is an 18-year old French orphan whom Fred Astaire ADOPTS and brings back to the United States. Leslie Caron was actually 24 at the time, Astaire 56. Anyways, the film is different because it actually addresses the age gap, and if you like a nice Astaire movie you should check it out. Or at least the trailer. But it made me like the book less! I like to think Astaire was too old for the part
Side note: This happens with lots of movies of that period/with these actors. Don’t think too hard about the romance in Funny Face, and don’t even get me started on Gigi… I still like them though! Especially Gigi. Because again, how could he not fall in love with Leslie Caron???
Re-readability: high! It felt fresh all over again.
Recommended for: L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott devotees.
If You Liked This Book You Should Also Check Out: I’ll go with lesser known works from the above authors. Like The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, reviewed here, or Eight Cousins or An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, the former we reviewed here. Judy is an aspiring writer so I have to mention the Emily series as well. Also there is a sequel (or really companion book) to Daddy Long Legs called Dear Enemy. This one focuses on Judy’s friend Sally’s attempts to reform the John Grier Home. My major caveat in recommending that one is that eugenics was an accepted theory at the time and it comes up often. So be forewarned.