If you liked Pollyanna and Anne Shirley, you’ll love Jerusha Abbott, heroine of Daddy Long-Legs.
The oldest orphan at John Grier Home, Jerusha is awarded a college education by an anonymous trustee who thinks she may have a future as a writer. She’s to acknowledge her monthly stipend by letter addressed to “John Smith” and sent to the trustee’s secretary.
All Jerusha knows of the man personally is that he’s tall (she glimpsed his back as he left the home) and doesn’t like girls.
Jean Webster’s novel about what happens to Jerusha is told through the girl’s letters to her benefactor, whom she calls “Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith.”
In her letters, which she illustrates with her own sketches, Jerusa reveals her joys and sorrows to the father-figure she invents for herself.
After first term failures in two subjects, Jerusha settles into her studies. She finds college work less difficult than “college play.” She has no experience of the normal experiences of family life or popular culture. However, her natural cheerfulness and adaptability soon make her part of the college community.
Through a roommate, she meets Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy, young, New York gentleman with whom she has much in common. If she didn’t feel obligated to pay Daddy Long-Legs for her education, Jerusha could easily fall for Jervis.
The heroine is believable as a person and as a fledgling writer. If the plot is a bit too pat, it’s nevertheless plausible for a girl with Jerusha’s orphanage upbringing.
Alhough it didn’t make the bestseller list (Dear Enemy, the sequel about the John Grier Home did) Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel is simply charming.
If you’re at a loss for a last minute Christmas gift for a stary-eyed adolescent or a senior citizen with a gentle sense of humor, Daddy Long-Legs might just fit the bill. The novel is readily available in both paperback and hardback. If your local independent bookstore doesn’t have it in stock, they can get it for you.Daddy Long-Legs
by Jean Webster
Grosset & Dunlap, 1912
Photo credit: page of first edition of Daddy Long-Legs, yellow with age, by Linda Aragoni