Jerusha Abbott was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. One day, after the asylum's trustees have made their monthly visit, Jerusha is informed by the asylum's dour matron that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. He has spoken to her former teachers and thinks she has potential to become an excellent writer. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance. Jerusha must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity; she must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply.
I picked Daddy-Long-Legs on a whim just before Dewey's 24-hour Readathon when I realized I had no audiobooks ready. It is short, a little over 4 hours, so I figured I could even finish it during the Readathon. It didn't happen, since Kraken took most of my time. But I found it was perfect audiobook material for those long hours processing samples alone. Ah, grad school!
Fun fact: I had actually seen the anime My Daddy Long Legs before knowing it was based on a book (yes, I live under a rock when it comes to children classics), but thankfully I couldn't remember much about it when I started reading this. Yay for faulty memory!
Be warned: this will contain spoilers.
Epistolary novels can be hit or miss, and this was definitely a big hit. Daddy-Long-Legs is a proto-YA novel in the vein of my favorite children classics: The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables... I have a soft spot for stubborn, imaginative, bookish and outspoken young ladies. It helps that I feel a tad identified. Daddy-Long-Legs is a bit more mature than any of those classics, and Jerusha has self-awareness, which is sorely lacking in many of these classic heroines. The result is an endearing and humorous voice that easily carries the reader through four-years worth of letters without answers.
The vignettes that compose Jerusha's life denote an open-mindedness and independence that I didn't expect in a female character from a novel written in 1912. It was really welcome. Jerusha writes about how her classes are going, which books she is reading, the friends she is making and how she is keeping her secret origin from them. She is always funny, and always touching. And for these vignettes alone Daddy-Long-Legs would be worth it, but the
added mystery of who the anonymous benefactor might be really ties everything together.
During her first year in college, Jerusha meets Jervie Pendleton, the uncle of one her friends, and 14 years her older. A friendship quickly develops between them, a friendship that slowly culminates in love by her graduation. I soon saw that Jervie would turn out to be Daddy-Long-Legs himself, so by modern standards I should find this romance problematic. Yet I find it endearing, and could even argue that it was subtly feminist. Jerusha not always does as her benefactor says. She insists on finding a way to support herself and pay back the money, so she starts tutoring other girls instead of going to Europe on holidays. She works hard to gain her independence, and it pays off.
By the end of her college education, Jerusha and Daddy-Long-Legs are on more equal terms than when he met her at the orphanage. However, she is still indebted with him, both pecuniarily and morally, which results in the rejection of her suitor out of a sense of duty to her Dear Daddy, unaware that both are the same person. She feels a marriage should be based on complete honesty between partners, which she can't do at that moment. On top of that, she thinks she should use her college education to develop her career instead of becoming simply the wife of someone she isn't one hundred percent sure would support her dedicating herself to writing. Both motives imply very modern views of marriage.
On the other hand, I understand that it wasn't Jervie's intention to fall in love with Jerusha, and when he did, he wanted her to love him because of who he was, not because he was her benefactor and she felt like she owed him. It is a very complex situation, since the power imbalance between the two is quite apparent. The great thing about this romance is that Jervie is aware of the power he holds over Jerusha and decides not to use it. He respects and fosters her freedom. When he finally revealed himself as Daddy-Long-Legs, they had known each other for a few years and had developed a relationship outside of their roles as benefactor and orphan. But the revelation was necessary so that both could come clean to their marriage, as equals.
Reader, I loved this. I will get my hands on the sequel soon, I hope.
What are your favorite classics with young ladies as main characters? And more importantly, what are your favorite romances? I'm still trying to find my foot on the genre!