I read a lovely post by Jenny about this delightful book a couple of weeks ago, and then, serendipitously, while I was browsing the $1 shelves outside the Strand Book Store a few days later, I happened across a copy. Parting with my $1.09 at the register (I still can’t get over this whole added on sales tax – I’m always getting in a fluster when it comes to paying for things!) I skipped quickly away across Union Square before I spent any more money on books I don’t need, sat on a bench, opened the dusty, fingerprint covered pages of this much loved copy of Daddy Long Legs, and started reading. Much like my experience with Anne of Green Gables just before I left for New York, I was instantly enchanted by the character of Judy, whose personality comes leaping off the pages, and shocked that I had never come across this before. Why isn’t every child given a copy of this to read and love and learn from? Because they should be!
Daddy Long Legs is an epistolary novel, formed of letters from Judy (Jerusha) Abbott, an orphan who grew up in a children’s home, to her benefactor, a trustee of the children’s home, who has anonymously given her the funds to go to college once she turns 18. The only glimpse of this trustee Judy has had was his long, thin shadow as he left the orphanage, and so she decides to affectionately name him ‘Daddy Long Legs’ in her letters. Judy has no family to write to, so she tells Daddy Long Legs every detail of her new life at college. Intelligent, enquiring, and terribly naive due to her lack of education and exposure to family life, Judy’s observations, emotions and ambitions are often innocently hilarious, and incredibly heart warming. She asks Daddy Long Legs if he has ever heard of Hamlet, because she has found it to be very good, and describes a weekend at her friend’s home, where she sees a mother and father and family life for the first time, and marvels at it.
Her discovery of the world, and desire to learn and discover and educate herself, are just so beautiful, and unlike anything I’ve read before. Her lack of a conventional upbringing and ignorance of things like family Christmasses opened my eyes to just how many of the ordinary life experiences Judy longs to have experienced, I don’t appreciate as I should. I don’t treat having a meal with my family as something special or exciting, but this book has shown me that it should be; having a tableful of people who love and cherish and delight in me should be something I am truly thankful for and appreciative of. Now I am no longer in the same country as my parents and siblings and nephews, I miss the fact that I have no family to come home to, and I can’t imagine what I would feel like if I didn’t have them there. This made me feel the poignancy of Judy’s longing for a mother very keenly, and despite the lightheartedness of this book, it did touch me quite deeply in places.
Judy stops to take notice of the things most people have learnt to take for granted by her age, and this delight in everything she sees, and thankfulness for everything, no matter how small, make her both beautifully childlike, and wonderfully optimistic. Despite her often loveless and difficult childhood, she has managed to grow a generous, warm, big heart that loves passionately and rejoices in the world that has dealt her a pretty hard hand. She frequently says that she has nothing to be sorry about, and everything to be thankful for, and this determination not to dwell on what she doesn’t have, but to be happy about what she does have, is a lesson I am sure many of us could do with learning again through the eyes of Judy. Judy can’t change the fact that she has no family, so she doesn’t pity herself. Instead, she works on creating a surrogate family of her own, and her desire to love others in the way she was never loved herself sees her making many friends throughout her time at college, and falling in love…
Aside from this personal journey of discovery, and lively, adorable voice of Judy that can’t help but make you fall in love with her from the very first page, there is also the fascinating account of Judy’s time at college in the early 20th century, and how much she relished the opportunity to study full time. The description of her comfortable dorm room, all ‘brown and yellow’ (apparently this was fashionable…I wonder why?!), the coffee parties, formal meals, skating trips and hours spent in the library all sounded wonderful, and gave a real insight into what college life was like for women in America at that time. Judy wants to be a writer, and she is given plenty of encouragement by her teachers, and her benefactor, to do so, which is quite rare to come across in a book of this period, and something that I think would really inspire many young readers. Judy has a dream, and she works hard to make it happen, while also enjoying her life to the utmost and being grateful for every day. She is a wonderful heroine, and by the end of her letters, she has grown into a sparkling, vivacious young woman who is ready to take the world by storm. If only there was a sequel, because now I’m desperate to read more!
All in all, this has been one of the most unexpectedly lovely books I’ve read, and will become another classic comfort read I’ll return to time and time again. Judy’s discovery of the joys of life, and her lack of bitterness despite her often harsh childhood experiences, will open your eyes to the beauty of the world around you, and make you more thankful for the simple things you take for granted in life. I can’t recommend this highly enough; if you love classic children’s literature like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women, this will become another firm favourite, I promise!