Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy My father collected old books. Not really old books, which were outside the family's price range, but the kind of old books that could be found at second hand stores or donated to library book sales. That still left him room, however, to buy some fairly old volumes, and as a kid, it wasn't uncommon for me to sit down with a book that had been printed 50 to 100 years before I was born. (Some of them wildly inappropriate for children. My reading habits were broad, and not exactly well-supervised. If I got my hands on it, I read it.)

What my father didn't have, I could find in my grandparents' house. They had a bookshelf upstairs, outside my mother's childhood room, which had a collection of books that must have belonged to my grandparents when they were themselves children. That's where I first ran into Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster.

Originally published in 1912, Daddy Long-Legs is the story of Jerusha Abbot (Judy), an orphan who is given an opportunity to get a college education from an anonymous philanthropist. Except for the first chapter, the book is comprised of a series of letters she writes to him over the years she is in school. As an old book, it has its problems, but taken in the context of its time it's refreshingly feminist.

Daddy-Long-Legs (Puffin Classics)Judy is wonderfully independent and joyously disrespectful. Her very first letter to her benefactor points out that she doesn't know what to call him. She only knows three things about him. He is tall. He is rich. He hates girls. She then informs him that she will call him Daddy-Long-Legs, since the other possible names (Mr. Rich-Man and Mr. Girl-Hater) would be disrespectful to each of them.

Judy yearns for freedom. More than anything, she wants to move beyond the orphanage where she grew up and make something more of herself than an unwanted child of questionable parentage.

9th June

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

Happy day! I've just finished my last examination Physiology. And now:

Three months on a farm!

I don't know what kind of a thing a farm is. I've never been on one in my life. I've never even looked at one (except from the car window), but I know I'm going to love it, and I'm going to love being FREE.

I am not used even yet to being outside the John Grier Home. Whenever I think of it excited little thrills chase up and down my back. I feel as though I must run faster and faster and keep looking over my shoulder to make sure that Mrs. Lippett isn't after me with her arm stretched out to grab me back.

I don't have to mind any one this summer, do I?

Your nominal authority doesn't annoy me in the least; you are too far away to do any harm. Mrs. Lippett is dead for ever, so far as I am concerned, and the Semples aren't expected to overlook my moral welfare, are they? No, I am sure not. I am entirely grown up. Hooray!

I leave you now to pack a trunk, and three boxes of teakettles and dishes and sofa cushions and books.

Yours ever,

PS. Here is my physiology exam. Do you think you could have passed?

I think the perfect song for Judy is from the Steve Miller Band - Fly Like An Eagle.

"I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution"

Book: Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
Music: Fly Like An Eagle, Steve Miller Band


Jaleh D said...

I read that book in middle school and loved it. My English had this project where we had to take a "classic" and pick out current actors/actresses and write up movie promos as if our book was a movie coming out. I picked Daddy-Long-Legs, because it said "Apple Classic" on the cover. I lost a bunch of points on my project because that wasn't what the teacher meant by the term. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

I love old books too. Like your dad, mine typically are the kind you'd find in second hand stores. I only have one truly valuable old book - which is an old edition of Nightmare Alley by William Gresham. I bought it from someone who apparently didn't know what they had. Now I collect vintage copies of books by Daphne du Maurier and Pearl Buck. I know I could go online right now and buy up every one but still, I prefer the hunt!


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