I’m not sure why I never read Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster as a child, it would have been right up my alley. I was charmed by this story as an adult, although I have one very large reservation. As it is a plot spoiler, I’ll give you fair warning before I talk about this.
The story is told in letter form written by an orphan, Jerusha, or Judy as she wants to be known, who at the start of the story is 17 years old. When Judy is given the opportunity to go to college by one of the orphanage’s benefactors, she leaps at the chance. Her anonymous benefactor expects her to become a writer and the only thing he asks of Judy is that she write to him of her experiences once a month.
Judy’s letters over the course of her four years at college are delightful. She briefly caught sight of her benefactor at the orphanage and knows that he is tall, so she addresses her letters to him as Daddy-Long-Legs. In the letters she tells him about her classmates, who come from all walks of life, what she is learning about and of what she is reading, her sporting endeavours and of the people she meets. In one letter, Judy confesses to failing her mathematics and Latin prose exams… but of course, she promises him she will work hard to rectify her failure which she does.
Judy is a terrific heroine. She is gracious in her gratitude to her benefactor, and importantly, doesn’t accept more from him than she needs. She returns excessive amounts of money which he gives her for hats and fripperies, and makes it clear to her benefactor that she will pay him back financially for his investment in her future. Impressively, she takes on paid work during her holidays rather than accepting an expensive trip to Europe from him.
Now for the spoiler.
I found it creepy that Daddy-Long-Legs moulded Judy to become a particular person, then fell in love with her. I disliked him taking advantage of her trust as she wrote to him as Daddy-Long-Legs, even telling him about the lovely man she had met, who of course was him only she didn’t know it. I was surprised that Judy, who showed herself to be independent and clear-thinking in every other way, was all too happy to fall in love with Jervis/Daddy-Long-Legs once all was revealed to her.
I wasn’t wild about the age difference between Judy and Jervis either and don’t see theirs as an equal pairing. The thought of Judy continuing to call him ‘Daddy’ after the big reveal made me feel even more uneasy.
End of spoiler.
However, despite my reservations about the romance-side of the story, I loved everything else about the story. Daddy-Long-Legs is a gorgeous look at the life of a girl in college in the early 1900s and Judy herself is a heroine whose character is one to live up to.