Jan 11, 2010

Daddy-Long-Legs (and Dear Enemy) by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster

I am so in love with this book! Thank you, Jenny and raidergirl3, for bringing it to my attention. I can’t believe I lived for over a quarter of a century without it. I needed it in my life, even if I didn’t know I did until a few days ago. But let me begin at the beginning:

Daddy-Long-Legs is an epistolary novel first published in 1912. It’s about an orphan, Jerusha Abbot (later known as Judy), who one day is told that one of the orphanage’s trustees will sponsor her university education. This philanthropist, who prefers to remain anonymous, only requests that in exchange Judy write him monthly letters about the progress of her education. They are to be addressed to Mr John Smith, and Judy is not to expect any response. All the same, she is to keep writing. Judy catches a glimpse of this man the day the deal is made, and because he’s tall with skinny arms and legs, she renames him Daddy-Long-Legs:

Before leaving yesterday morning, Mrs. Lippett and I had a very serious talk. She told me how to behave all the rest of my life, and especially how to behave towards the kind gentleman who is doing so much for me. I must take care to be Very Respectful.
But how can one be very respectful to a person who wishes to be called John Smith? Why couldn't you have picked out a name with a little personality? I might as well write letters to Dear Hitching-Post or Dear Clothes-Prop.
I have been thinking about you a great deal this summer; having somebody take an interest in me after all these years makes me feel as though I had found a sort of family. It seems as though I belonged to somebody now, and it's a very comfortable sensation. I must say, however, that when I think about you, my imagination has very little to work upon. There are just three things that I know:
I. You are tall.
II. You are rich.
III. You hate girls.
I suppose I might call you Dear Mr. Girl-Hater. Only that's rather insulting to me. Or Dear Mr. Rich-Man, but that's insulting to you, as though money were the only important thing about you. Besides, being rich is such a very external quality. Maybe you won't stay rich all your life; lots of very clever men get smashed up in Wall Street. But at least you will stay tall all your life! So I've decided to call you Dear Daddy-Long-Legs. I hope you won't mind. It's just a private pet name we won't tell Mrs. Lippett.
And this is only the first of four year’s worth of charming, spirited and funny letters. I confess that I was perhaps naturally predisposed to love this book, because it’s both an epistolary novel and a novel from the early twentieth-century that argues for women’s education. But really, what made me fall in love with Daddy-Long-Legs was Judy’s voice. She reminded me a bit of Anne Shirley – both are orphans, unconventional, lively, and aspiring writers – and yet she’s still very much herself. I can’t understand why this book is not as popular as Anne of Green Gables. (Or is it, and I live under a rock?) I also can’t possibly convey what a delight Judy is, so let me give you a few more examples instead:
I forgot to post this yesterday, so I will add an indignant postscript. 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.

Should you mind, just for a little while, pretending you are my grandmother? Sallie has one and Julia and Leonora each two, and they were all comparing them tonight. I can't think of anything I'd rather have; it's such a respectable relationship. So, if you really don't object—When I went into town yesterday, I saw the sweetest cap of Cluny lace trimmed with lavender ribbon. I am going to make you a present of it on your eighty-third birthday.
! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
That's the clock in the chapel tower striking twelve. I believe I am sleepy after all.
Good night, Granny.
I love you dearly.

That's the way with everybody. I don't agree with the theory that adversity and sorrow and disappointment develop moral strength. The happy people are the ones who are bubbling over with kindliness. I have no faith in misanthropes. (Fine word! Just learned it.) You are not a misanthrope are you, Daddy?

You know, Daddy, I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people's places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding. It ought to be cultivated in children. But the John Grier Home instantly stamped out the slightest flicker that appeared. Duty was the one quality that was encouraged. I don't think children ought to know the meaning of the word; it's odious, detestable. They ought to do everything from love.
Oh Judy, I love you! Can you tell how smart and funny she is? Also, I don’t want to say that her greatest charm is her naivety, because that would be doing her a great disservice, but… she spent the first eighteen years of her life at the John Griers Home, where she was sheltered from most of the experiences young girls her age had gone through. To watch her experience things for the first time and approach the world as if it entirely were new was enchanting. She’s so…earnest, in the best possible sense of the word. And so eager to experience, well, everything. Including literature! I loved seeing her discover classics for the first time - Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Little Women, Treasure Island, and so on.

You should all read Daddy-Long-Legs right now. Did I mention that it’s (unfortunately) very short, and that you could read it in only about two hours? And that it will fill you with happiness and make you smile for the rest of the day? Also, that it’s not just a collection of charming letters – it has a Real Plot and everything? A clever plot too, even if easy to see coming. (Possibly spoiler-ish: any misgivings I might have had about certain, er, white lies were mostly erased by the fact that the characters’ ties just seem so genuine. Also, the power dynamics didn’t alarm me, which was a pleasant surprise. Also, aww. But let me shut up before I say too much.) As I was saying, go read it right now!

Dear Enemy, the not-sequel, was published in 1915. I’m calling it a not-sequel because this is the best way to approach it. I started it as soon as I finished Daddy Long-Legs because I wanted more of it, which is not what Dear Enemy is. However, once I got over my disappointment over the fact that I wasn’t reading more of Daddy-Long-Legs, I was able to love it for what it is.

What it is, then, is a collection of letters sent by Judy’s college friend Sallie to several correspondents, including Judy herself. In them, she retells her experiences as the new superintendent of the John Griers Home, the orphanage where Judy grew up. Sallie’s voice is not Judy’s, but it’s charming in its own right. And the book, while not as delightful and satisfying, is actually a bit meatier than Daddy Long-Legs. It deals with new theories concerning education and child-rearing, with the value of women’s work, and with other themes central to first wave feminism. One of the main things Sallie learns is that no, she doesn’t have to settle for the domestic sphere and live a life of suffocation; and yes, she’s just as entitled to pursue something that satisfies her as a man is, and just as capable. And her work is worth just as much.

Unfortunately, one of the new social theories that were popular at the time was eugenics, as evidenced by passages such as this:
It seems that feeblemindedness is a very hereditary quality, and science isn't able to overcome it. No operation has been discovered for introducing brains into the head of a child who didn't start with them. And the child grows up with, say, a nine-year brain in a thirty-year body, and becomes an easy tool for any criminal he meets. Our prisons are one-third full of feeble-minded convicts. Society ought to segregate them on feeble-minded farms, where they can earn their livings in peaceful menial pursuits, and not have children. Then in a generation or so we might be able to wipe them out.
NO, SALLIE, NO! This is interesting as an historical document, I suppose, but it still made me cringe. And it made me sad, too, because I liked Sallie a lot—because she was so kind in so many ways, and yet here she was, accepting a patronising and appalling form of cruelty so casually. But that's the early 20th century for you. And, in not entirely dissimilar ways, the early 21st too. That’s just people for you, I guess. The good news is that later on, her actual experience with these children causes her to doubt the Doom and Gloom social theories she was exposed to.

I urged you to read Daddy-Long-Legs, and I’m going to tell you to go ahead and read Dear Enemy too—but keep in mind that it won’t be more of the same. Still, Sallie is most definitely worth getting to know.

Some more interesting bits:
Sandy has two passions in life: one is for cod-liver oil and the other for spinach, neither popular in our nursery. Some time ago—before I came, in fact—he had ordered cod-liver oil for all {aenemic} of the{ }—Heavens! there's that word again! {aneamic} —children, and had given instructions as to its application to Miss Snaith. Yesterday, in his suspicious Scotch fashion, he began nosing about to find out why the poor little rats weren't fattening up as fast as he thought they ought, and he unearthed a hideous scandal. They haven't received a whiff of cod-liver oil for three whole weeks! At that point he exploded, and all was joy and excitement and hysterics.

The Hon. Cy was awfully impressed with the new dining room, especially when he heard that Betsy had put on those rabbits with her own lily-white hands. Stenciling rabbits on walls, he allows, is a fitting pursuit for a woman, but an executive position like mine is a trifle out of her sphere. He thinks it would be far wiser if Mr. Pendleton did not give me such free scope in the spending of his money.

I must tell you the joke about my enemy—not the Hon. Cy, but my first, my original enemy. He has undertaken a new field of endeavor. He says quite soberly (everything he does is sober; he has never smiled yet) that he has been watching me closely since my arrival, and though I am untrained and foolish and flippant (sic), he doesn't think that I am really so superficial as I at first appeared. I have an almost masculine ability of grasping the whole of a question and going straight to the point. Aren't men funny? When they want to pay you the greatest compliment in their power, they naively tell you that you have a masculine mind. There is one compliment, incidentally, that I shall never be paying him. I cannot honestly say that he has a quickness of perception almost feminine.

I can't tell you how pleased I am that Betsy's salary is to be raised, and that we are to keep her permanently. But the Hon. Cy Wykoff deprecates the step. He has been making inquiries, and he finds that her people are perfectly able to take care of her without any salary.
"You don't furnish legal advice for nothing," say I to him. "Why should she furnish her trained services for nothing?"
"This is charitable work."
"Then work which is undertaken for your own good should be paid, but work which is undertaken for the public good should not be paid?"
"Fiddlesticks!" says he. "She's a woman, and her family ought to support her."
(At which point both Sallie and I rolled our eyes.)

Other opinions:
Kay’s Bookshelf
Naked Without Books
Books ans Chocolate

(Did I miss yours?)


  1. I had Daddy Long-Legs as a child and I loved it. I even remember revisiting it when I was older and still loving it. I think I would now, too! It was just such a delightful book. I'd never heard of it anywhere else though, nor from anyone else, and I definitely think it's worth bringing to others' attention. I had no idea there was a related book, and now I must have Dear Enemy! Especially now that I know what to expect.

  2. It sounds so charming! Loved the excerpt you provided. How have I never heard of this?! Especially since you compare it to Anne of Green Gables, which I loved as a kid.

  3. I looked on amazon about this book and found you can also get "just" Daddy Long Legs..but even that is costly but then i'vd seen even magazines for 5.95 so it went on my wish list.. and yes her voice grabs you right away! the passages you wrote made me want to read it right away!

  4. Why have I never heard of this before?? Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  5. Wow, this sounds awesome. It's been immediately added to my TBR. I can't believe I haven't heard of this book before! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  6. I am doing my happy dance because you love it so much. I was worried you might not like it, when I saw you reading it. This was one of the best books I read when I was younger and I would often get it back out of the library to re-read it.
    Luckily hubby managed to get it for me for Christmas, with Dear Enemy also in it. I hope to be reading it again in the next month.

  7. glad you loved it! Jenny and raidergirl - that could be quite the team of .. something. We should work on that.

    And for those interested in reading Daddy Long-Legs, it is available for free on Dailylit.com, installments daily on your email. This would be a great way to start your day, a little bit at a time.

  8. Okay some of those quotes made my jaw literally drop open. The one about the Bishop? And the one about feeble-minded farming? Different reasons for jawdropping, obviously...

    After hearing Karen's praise and then yours, I definitely have to read this.

  9. I have never heard of this! Well other than when you were talking about it on Twitter the other day. Your review has definitely made me want to pick it up immediately! The quotes you picked are amazing.

  10. I must live on another planet, as I've never heard of this. And even if I had, would I have ever considered reading it? I doubt it. That is what I love about your blog. You are broadening my horizons one post at a time!

  11. I LOVED this book when I was a kid! Unfortunately I remember nothing more than that it was a young girl writing letters to her unknown male benefactor, but still, I remember that I loved it. So glad you are introducing it to a new crop of readers!

  12. You've convinced me! I just added it to my wish list. The cover is wonderful too.

  13. Daddy Long-legs is one of my all-time favorite books! When I was a little girl, I loved that Judy gets to become educated AND gets the guy!

    You know there's a couple of movie versions of it, right?

  14. This sounds fantastic - your enthusiasm was really infectious, and Daddy Long-legs, in particular, sounds like a book I too would love. I've never heard of this book before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  15. Man, as soon as you gave that brief description, I knew exactly what book you were talking about, but for the life of me I cannot remember if I read it when I was in grade school, or if it was one of those books that the librarians were always suggesting that I read in grade school but I never did. I suppose I should read (or possibly re-read?) it and find out. :)

  16. I loved this book but never came across the non-sequel - must look for it!

  17. Okay, I know you said to read them both, but I have to tell you that it's Daddy-Long-Legs that has me most excited! How on earth could one not fall in love with Judy after reading those passages you posted?!! :D

  18. My daughter and I were just discussing this book last night. We read the mother-daughter book club series together and the new book that came out is based on Daddy-Long-Legs being their book club read. I am so glad to know that you loved it because I read the book club pick after reading the latest mother-daughter book.

  19. What FABULOUS quotes you include! I am putting this straight on the wish list. Or maybe it will be available online. I will check that possibility out, too. Sounds lovely! And it could qualify for Women Unbound, too :-)

  20. Daddy Long Legs sounds so great. I would never have heard of this story if it weren't for your blog! Thanks for another interesting read for my TBR list!

  21. I had a friend recommend this to me on goodreads! Great review, I liked the excerpts you posted, it makes me want to move this up the TBR. :-)

  22. I was sold after your first quote. Adding this to my to-read list right now!

  23. I don't think I've ever heard of this book but it sounds delightful! I'm going to check my library catalog right now and see if they have it.

  24. Off to see if the library has this because I must read it. Wonderful review.

  25. I've seen this book around since I was a teenager, but just haven't got around to reading this yet!! Gotta add this on to my wishlist!

  26. You convinced me-- I just requested it from my library!

  27. I suppose I might call you Dear Mr. Girl-Hater. Only that's rather insulting to me. Or Dear Mr. Rich-Man, but that's insulting to you, as though money were the only important thing about you.

    That sounds very clever to me. And funny. I like the sound of this book, Ana! Thanks for the review.

  28. I actually looked for this at the bookstore today, but they didn't have it. :-( The library doesn't have it, either (no surprise there). And I'm trying very hard not to order it...because then I'd have to order more books to get the free shipping. Except wait...it's super cheap for the nook. Now I'm really counting the days for its arrival!

  29. Okay, I am putting it on hold at the library right now!

  30. Never read this. Am about to change that. I am so glad you are here to find the books I must read. Thank you, thank you!

  31. I'm glad you liked them - though I agree, the eugenics stuff is appalling. I love it when Judy talks about secretly reading all the classics, Little Women and Sherlock Holmes and all those books. :)

  32. I just got a copy on Paperback Swap and I'm SO excited!!! I had never heard of this one before either!! But you have me dying to read it now. I found I Kill Giants at Barnes and Noble tonight but I didn't get it :( I got Blankets instead!! It was between the two and I've been wanting Blankets for so long!! But I did thumb through I Kill Giants and it looks so freaking good. It's totally going to be my next GN purchase :D

  33. You put in all my favorite letters! This was my grandmother's book when she was in high school..her copy was a movie tie-in...janet gaynor was Judy. Perfect choice. I really think this book is why my mom is named Judy. Love DLL and tried to read DE, but rejected it for the same reason you initially had for not caring for it.
    I discuss DLL and Jean Webster briefly in this post: http://bybeebooks.blogspot.com/2009/05/jane-eyres-american-daughters.html

  34. You've convinced me! This sounds utterly charming and I've just added it to my wishlist!

  35. Meghan: I'm sure you'd still love it now! And I hope you enjoy Dear Enemy too :)

    Ladytink: I hadn't either until recently!

    Deslily: TheBookDepository has a lovely penguin edition of both, AND they have free shipping :P You can ready it online too. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :)

    JoAnn and Bibliolatrist: It seems that most bloggers hadn't! I have no idea how this became obscure. It's such a good book!

    Vivienne: I'd be nuts not to like it :P I look forward to your review when you re-read it!

    raidergirl3: A team of awesome Recommenders of Books ;)

    Amanda: lol, yep, different reasons.

    Lu: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Sandy: lol! Thank you - that made me smile :D

    Heather: Well, you'll get to experience it all over again then!

    Kathy: Isn't it? I really fell in love with that cover.

    Amanda: I know - and I love that she doesn't let him boss her around. I actually didn't know about the movies, no, so thanks for telling me!

    Steph, you're most welcome! I hope you enjoy it!

  36. This is one of those books that I grew up with but other people have never heard of. I used to read it over and over.

  37. So, am now reading Dear Enemy, and along with the eugenics (which I haven't gotten to yet), this made me shudder and really, really worry about these poor kids' future lives:
    Five other children have been sent to their proper institutions. One of them is deaf, one an epileptic, and the other three approaching idiocy. None of them ought ever to have been accepted here. This as an educational institution, and we can't waste our valuable plant in caring for defectives.

  38. Fyrefly: lol, yep :P Even id you did read it before I bet it will be just as delightful the second time around.

    Verity, I hope you enjoy it! Like I said, it's not quite as charming, but I grew to love Sallie too.

    Debi: Yes, I did like Daddy-Long-Legs more. But both are good!

    Eva, I hope you enjoy it :)

    Book Psmith: That is so neat that the book is based on that! Hopefully it will lead to lots of readers of the series rediscovering this gem :)

    Aarti: Well, I know you've found the answer to that already :P I'm thrilled that you loved it :D And yes, I'm definitely counting it for women unbound.

    Kathleen: You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it :D

    April: Isn't Judy's voice charming? I was hoping you all would fall for her too :P

    Alita: My work here is done :P

    Iliana: I hope they do! If not, Project Gutenberg and Daily Lit both have it :)

    Cath: Yes you must! :P

    Melody: Well, it's never too late!

    Staci: yay!

    Alice: I love how she's funny AND insightful AND wise :D

    softdrink: I wish I could have told you Daily Lit had it in time!

    Gavin: yay :D

    ds: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Jenny: That was one of the passages I copied to my personal journal :D And the bit where she's reading Treasure Island and starts talking like a pirate too :P

    Chris: Hooray! And yes, get I Kill Giants next - I think it would especially interest you considering what you do. And I can't say more than this :P Also, be careful not to thumb through it too much because it's VERY spoilable.

    Bybee: Thank you for your link! And yeah, even though I ended up liking Dear Enemy, I wish I hadn't read it right after DLL. I just wanted more of Judy!

    Clover: yay! Enjoy :D

    Aarti: UGH, I know :\ That's one of the worse bits (the very worst is one in which she considers using arsenic... :S :S :S ). It's part of the whole eugenics mindset, and it really is appalling. But don't worry, I can promise you that no actual child-murder takes place!

  39. Lisa - it's one I can see myself returning to again and again as well. What a pity that it's not more well-known!

  40. These sound fabulous! I love that she decided to call him Daddy Long Legs. Such a neat idea!!!

  41. I love these too. Thanks for writing about them! I read Daddy Long Legs years before discovering Dear Enemy. I remember being so excited to find it! I think I'll have to see if I still have my copy of DLL to read again.

  42. Don't remember much about Daddy LongLegs but do remember loving it!

  43. I've downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg to read :).

  44. I love Judy. She's awesome. I wanted to be her when I was little!
    it'd be fun to reread it now after so many years!

  45. The plot and the title sound awfully familiar to me. After a few minutes of thinking, I think there's a reference to it at some anime or manga that I watched/read when I was small. In fact, one of my childhood anime has element of storyline that seems to be inspired from the book. Anyway, thanks for sharing that!

  46. Just came here from Aarti's blog! Great review and I'm now curious to find how I like this book. Got it through Dailylit now, but since my library stocks this, I will probably run over there tomorrow to grab a copy!

  47. How do so many people know about this book and I have never heard of it? Interesting quotes.

    I love the cover, too!

  48. Webster was somehow related to Mark Twain...maybe a grandniece or niece?

  49. I can't believe I've never read this! It sounds utterly delightful.

  50. DLL was one of my absolute favorites when I was younger. Love that book!

    I've never read the not-sequel and don't think I will. I'd like to hold the gem that was DLL apart in my mind, you know?

  51. I just read Aarti's review of this book, and was happy to read that you loved this book as well. I also hopped on over to Daily Lit to get it delivered to my feed reader as well. It sounds like it's a great feel good story, and I am looking forward to reading it!

  52. I just read Aarti's review of this book, and was happy to read that you loved this book as well. I also hopped on over to Daily Lit to get it delivered to my feed reader as well. It sounds like it's a great feel good story, and I am looking forward to reading it!

  53. I just read Aarti's review of this book, and was happy to read that you loved this book as well. I also hopped on over to Daily Lit to get it delivered to my feed reader as well. It sounds like it's a great feel good story, and I am looking forward to reading it!

  54. Aha thanks Nymeth! I was trying to remember the other day what books wrote in letter form were called and now I know (epistolary must remember that.)
    And I think I must read Daddy Long Legs - it sounds wonderful!

  55. I loved this book as a child - just adored it and should reread it soon - you brought it all rushing back! I had no idea about the not-sequel, though, and I will be looking for that. Thanks!

  56. Delightful review. And a charming protagonist. Veens at Give Reading a Chance just posted about reading this book so I came to see your review. I don't enjoy YA literature though this one sounds like a fun read. I wanted to slap that Bishop myself after what she wrote. Sounds like a lot of people know about this one.
    I sometimes tire of seeing only the latest new thing in books reviewed by bloggers. Most of them will never stand up. So thank you for reviewing an oldie but goodie.

  57. Oh Nymeth, i am sorry I never commented here because as soon as I read your review, i went in search of this book and ever since I have been reading the 1st instalment! I dnt get lot of reading done in front of the comp, so what took you 2 hours, took me two days!

    I LOVED this. Thank YOU!
    And I linked to your review!!!!!!
    Hope you dnt mind :)
    Here is the link - http://nidhiveens-loveforbooks.blogspot.com/2010/01/daddy-long-legs-by-jean-webster.html

  58. My sis introduced this book to me when I was a kid and yeah, I liked it too! But I think I've only read this book twice and both times were indeed enjoyable. I love the part where Daddy-Long-Legs revealed his identity to Judy! :) A sweet happy ending.

  59. I just now saw your review for this book -- I loved it also. This was the book that inspired me to start blogging -- I was appalled that I'd never heard of it before. Here's a link if you'd like to read my review:


  60. Nice review :) Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/12/daddy-long-legs-by-jean-webster.html

    Thanks and have a nice day! :D


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