A not so creepy crawly:Daddy Long Legs, Jean Webster (1912)

Despite the recommendations of both my mother and my sister, I had put off reading this one for a while. It’s an epistolary novel, and I’m not particularly enamoured of them. However, having read the book, I think it was excellently done, and the use of the letters has given the author the opportunity for some marvellous characterisation. We only ever see the hero through the heroine’s eyes, and reported in a letter at that, but we have a very clear picture both of the sort of person she is, and also how she changes during the course of the book, and of how she perceives him.

The heroine of the piece is an orphan in an American orphanage who is given the opportunity to go to college on leaving the orphanage by patronage of one of the orphanage’s trustees. The heroine is informed that this individual has been in the habit of assisting boys and doesn’t think much of girls, but was so impressed by a short story she had written that he wants to give her a decent education. However this is on the condition that he remain completely anonymous. The only other condition is that the heroine must write him regular letters informing him of her progress, hence the letters. She is never to expect a reply to these letters. She has no idea who he is, apart from thinking that she saw him once, silhouetted against the hall wall, as he was leaving after a trustees meeting. This silhouette showed a very tall, thin man, almost insectile, so she called him Daddy long legs.

The rest of the novel is a coming of age story, as the heroine grows up and falls in love, working her way through a rather elementary seeming ladies college. The identity of Daddy long legs is fairly obvious quite early on, and this knowledge provides much of the humour of the novel, as the heroine, who is pretty clueless in this regard, is extremely rude about him to her benefactor.

I was surprised to discover that it is still in print. I was even more surprised to discover that it has been relegated to the children’s department and was latterly published under the Puffin imprint. With a hero of thirty five and a heroine in her twenties, this does strike me as odd – it was originally published as adult fiction. This also seems to have happened to DK Broster to some degree, and one or two of the other books in my great-grandmother’s collection. I do wonder if this is in part due to the non-explicit nature of the plots – hero and heroine barely kiss, never mind go to bed – or perhaps it is because of the nature of the plot.

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2 responses to “A not so creepy crawly:Daddy Long Legs, Jean Webster (1912)

  1. I found Daddy Long Legs as an audio-book in the children’s section of my local library recently. I tried to listen to it but there was too much racket going on, then I had to return it. Your review has encouraged me to get hold of the book and sit down and read it properly.

  2. can you please answer my question via E-mail? How many years is the hero older than the heroine? PLEASE

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