Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

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!

57 comments

  1. I loved this book, and I actually became annoyed because I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s actually the book that got me started blogging — I was compelled to write about it. I agree, it’s one of those coming-of-age classics like Anne of Green Gables or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Why isn’t it more popular?

    1. Wow, that’s amazing! It’s a great book to start blogging for, I must say! I really don’t know why it’s not more well known…by rights it should be just as much a classic as Anne of Green Gables in my opinion!

  2. I’ve never read the book, but now feel that I must. I have seen the film, as I am rather a musical addict. It’s not Fred Astaire’s best, but still worth a watch.

  3. Well! I disappear for a couple of months and come back to find you in a different country!! I read great things about this too and found my own copy in a secondhand bookshop in Redruth. Thank you for reminding me that I really must read it soon.

    1. Ha! Yes, sorry – that must have been a bit of a shock! I’m glad you’ve got a copy of this to hand, Jane – I’m sure you’ll love it when you get around to it. It’s a perfect pick me up!

  4. How great to find a book that is so unloved by the masses that it is only $1. But you, in the know, thanks to your blogger friends find the gem and snap it up for next to nothing. I love it when that happens.

    1. I know! It’s always such a feeling of triumph when I see a treasure on the bargain shelves – it’s like a secret between me and the book, that only I know how special it is!

  5. What a fantastic find! I always love when used bookstores offer up an unexpected treasure or two!

    And I agree that it’s annoying to not simply have the sales tax built into the price. It’s so stressful trying to calculate whether you have the right amount of change or not!

    1. Wasn’t it just? Me too – part of the joy of loving books is the finding of them in out of the way places!

      It’s a system I just don’t understand, Steph – I know that each state has a different tax so it would be a bit of a nightmare for nationwide shops to print different tags, but it would make a big difference, especially in big cities where there are a lot of tourists and immigrants who aren’t familiar with the system!

  6. I never got the hang of sales tax when I’ve been in the US, but worth it for that book – surely that’s less than 99p?! I believe there’s a sequel to this but have never seen it.

    1. No, it confounds me. I know on a $1, it’s 9 cents, so I suppose I could work it out if I wanted to! Some items are exempt as well, so it really is very confusing. But yes, less than 99p anyway, so a real bargain! Yes there is a sequel as other people have informed me – I can’t wait to read that now!

  7. There is a sequel- it’s called “Dear Enemy”. It focuses mainly on Sally McBride, but Judy and co. appear as relatively minor characters, so you do get to hear more about them. I think it’s wonderful, but just to warn you, some people have problems with it because some of the attitudes are very dated (it focuses on social care). But it’s great if you can see the small number of questionable aspects as a product of the book’s time, and just enjoy the rest. It definitely has much of the same jolliness as Daddy-Long-Legs, and is one of my favourite “comfort” reads!

    1. Oh wow! Thanks for letting me now, Eth – I’m so excited to find the sequel now! I don’t mind a bit of datedness – I find it interesting for the social history anyway, so it wouldn’t bother me at all. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Judy afterwards!

  8. THAT looks like a ‘Rachel’ book! Such a gorgeous cover and I can’t think of a better new owner…excellent find!

    It’s always a joy to find out your purchases really cost so much more than you were bargaining for….NOT!

    1. It is a perfect ‘Rachel’ book! I just was so pleased to find it – I seem to be having lots of luck with such things of late. Long may it continue!

      I know, exactly! It’s so annoying!

  9. What a wonderful find. I have seen the movie, but have never found the book which I’m sure I would enjoy more. Since I am an Anne fan, I’m sure I would like the book and will look again for it. Thanks for the review.

  10. I’m really hoping to get my hands on a copy of this one of these days. (It was actually Jenny who reviewed it.) It looks like such a charming, fun book. Clearly, I need to find and frequent the $1 shelves more often. They seem to be a rare thing in my neck of the woods, unfortunately.

    1. Oh, I’m sorry Teresa! I’ll correct that. I think you’d love this just as much as Jenny – can you borrow her copy?! $1 shelves seem to be more and more rare these days. I wish there were more of them! I hate paying more than $2 or $3 for a book!

  11. I’m with Eth – get a copy of Dear Enemy. Yes, the way Sally talks about, say, the “feeble minded” does not sit well with the modern reader but it is a reflection of the times and interesting, I think, for its insight into social policy of a year ago. Sally McBride is delightful and the story is a reverse of Daddy Long Legs since a society girl is going into the orphabnage. Great fun.

    1. I am desperate for a copy of Dear Enemy now I have heard such good things about it! Perhaps I will find one on the $1 shelves next time I go over to the Strand! I don’t mind the old fashioned ways of describing things..I know they are not meant to be offensive. I am excited to find out about the future of Judy and her friends now!

  12. Isn’t it just a lovely story. I can still see the shadow of Fred Astaire going down the hall. I have 2 hardback copies but different covers from yours.One is a Hodder and Stoughton 1/- Cloth bound book. Think possibly 1st English edition. A lovely review on the cover. “The whole thing is delicious- The oddest, merriest and tenderest told -in-letters love thats come along for many a day.” Dundee Advertisers. I think that sort of sums it up.

    1. I can’t wait to see the film version now! An all singing all dancing Daddy Long Legs is too good to miss! How lovely that you have such precious editions. I love that quote!

  13. I have loved this book (and the sequel, in spite of the weird eugenics stuff in the sequel) since I was a little girl. Did your copy include Judy’s illustrations? They aren’t necessary to enjoy the book, but they certainly enhance it. Plus, she draws a little calf that looks alarmingly like my parents’ puppy. :p

    1. Eugenics?! Interesting! I did have the illustrations, yes – they’re adorable! I’ll have to go back and look at the calf picture now! Is it a very big puppy?!

      1. Biggish – she’s a standard poodle, and she has a long snout and a big nose and big dark eyes, and slightly gangly legs. Not calf-like to look at until you compare her to Judy’s pictures. :p

  14. Love this book. So glad you found it, and must echo with others, you should watch the Fred Astaire movie (being prepared that it doesn’t precisely follow the book and that it is a musical).

    1. I can’t believe it took me this long to find it, Susan! After so many recommendations, I will definitely be watching the movie – though I will be forewarned about the content, thank you for telling me that!

  15. What a bargain purchase of a very good book, one that is long overdue for re-reading. This has made me wonder which other books that came my way as a child didn’t come into your orbit.

    Have you read:-

    What Katy Did and the sequels by Susan Coolidge.

    A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter.

    The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett.

    1. I know! I think I did very well really…to think I ummed and aaahed over it too!

      I have read the first and last of the books you mention but not A Girl of the Limberlost! I have never heard of that before! Off to check it out…thank you Geraldine!

      1. Great that you already knew 2 out of the 3. Hopefully you should easily be able to find a cheap copy of Girl of the Limberlost on that side of the Herring Pond.

  16. Like some other commenting here, I haven’t read the book but remember enjoying the Astaire/Caron film when I was growing up. I loved the title so much I planned to open a shop one day with the same name. (Daddy Long Legs the business never did materialise, in case you’re wondering!).

    1. Well really…how did I miss this film? If it’s as well known as it appears to be, clearly I grew up in a culture vacuum! How wonderful to have a lovely shop called Daddy Long Legs…it’s never too late!

  17. After reading some of your NYC posts, I wanted to recommend “Time and Again” by Jack Finney. It’s a time travel/historical novel set entirely in New York City. I first read it when I lived in the city and loved the descriptions of the city in the 1880’s. And since it was published in or about 1970 it really gives glimpses of two periods of history in the city. Your trip to the park built on the elevated train tracks reminded me of the book.

    Loved Daddy Long Legs too!

    Enjoy your time in New York City. I still miss my years there.

    1. Thanks Susan – I’ll look up that book! It sounds wonderful. I’d really like to understand more about the history of New York. I am and I know I will – New York is a city where you can never be bored or lost for things to inspire you. I love it!

  18. Ooh, you make me almost envious that you have so many lovely books still to read! I second “A girl of the Limberlost” and add Louisa May Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl”.

  19. I hadn’t realized that you’d never read Daddy-Long-Legs! It’s a wonderful book, and it’s lovely that you discovered it (and at such a great price). In addition to the sequel, Dear Enemy, Jean Webster also wrote When Patty Went to College, which isn’t as good as the Judy/Sally books, but is sweetly charming. It’s a bit like the Molly Brown books in terms of scarcity, so if you see one, snap it up!🙂

    1. Yes – another one I missed out on! I’m so glad i decided to pick it up. When Patty Went to College is definitely a book I’ll watch out for now – so much for me not buying any books while I’m in the US!!🙂

  20. My friend was given a copy of this as a school prize in the late 1950s (inspired choice)& I borrowed it from her. I thoroughly enjoyed it then & must re-read it soon.

  21. This sounds like a really enchanting book! I have heard about it but haven’t read it, I will have to try it – love Anne of Green Gables.

  22. Rachel – I am enjoying your wonderful blog!! About this story – I’m really puzzled – this seems SO familiar, but I never read the book, or heard of it. And I never saw the film, either! Where, oh where have I heard of this story??? Now I’m going to be wandering around in a daze, trying to remember it. I’m excessively puzzled!

    1. Thank you, Lisa! It’s so lovely to have a new reader! I see that you have already solved your mystery – I’m glad. It’s so infuriating when that happens and you’re racking your brain to remember!

  23. Just a comment on Dear Enemy from the wife of a social worker in the field of child welfare: Sally’s whole concept about orphanages vs. “family” or “cottage” settings is remarkably prescient; the whole field has moved to the “cottage” vs. institution concept.

    And do get copies of Time and Again (which has a sequel, From Time To Time) and A Girl of the Limberlost; the latter is an old-fashioned “comfort read” for me.

    1. Hi Mumsy! I would love to read Dear Enemy and to read Jean Webster’s thoughts on the social care system. I am going to look out for it!

      I will indeed! Children’s books are great to read for tired people like me – not too much thinking necessary!

  24. I wa so excited to read your review. Last night I saw a new musical called Daddy Long Legs based on the book. It was a great musical hopefully heading towards Brodway. By the description of your review (and I’m doing a search to find and read the book) the musical did a wonderful job with the spirit and the story of the original. Thank you for the review,Mindy

    1. Hi Mindy, thank you so much for reading and commenting! It’s lovely to meet you! I bet this was just a wonderful musical and I hope you manage to find a copy of the book and enjoy it just as much in print as you did on the stage!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s