Reviews of Daddy-Long-Legs (1912)
Review by mojosmom (2005-06-15)
If all you know of this book is the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron musical, you’re in for a real surprise. Judy is not the wimpy-simpy sweet young thing of the film, nor is Jervie the jumpy flake played by Astaire. Judy is a real person, a strong personality, who finds her calling, not in a man (though she does marry Jervis Pendleton), but in her writing. Webster wrote the book in 1912. She was part of that Bohemian generation of women writers who ensconced themselves in NYC’s Greenwich VIllage. She was a socialist and suffragist. She carried on an affair with a married man (whom she later married). The film was made in the’50’s, the “New Look”, post-WWII, “go to college for your MRS degree” ‘50s. Chuck the movie, and read the book.
The edition I read contained this and Dear Enemy (a sequel of sorts)in one volume (illustrated with Webster’s original delightful drawings), and I read them both in a day. It’s interesting to compare the two. The first is the story of an orphan girl, raised in an asylum in poverty, never knowing her family, who is sent to college by a wealthy benefactor. She must adjust to a world where she does not know things (she never heard of Michaelangelo or Maeterlinck, for example) that are as easy as breathing to her fellow students, and her pride prevents her from letting her college friends know that she grew up in a Home.
In the second, Judy's friend, Sallie McBride, a child of privilege, arrives to take over the running of the orphanage with her Chinese chow and her lady’s maid in tow. But she is not a snob (she couldn’t be Judy’s friend if she were). By now, of course, Judy has told all, and Sallie’s shock at the way the orphans are raised is increased by her knowledge that her friend lived through this.
Daddy-Long-Legs is a very enjoyable book, funny and pert, about a young girl’s coming-of-age, coming into love and into her own. But Dear Enemy is deeper, perhaps because the woman is a bit older, facing not college, but life. Her struggles to help others and, in the process, finding out who she is make for a more complex story.
On a less personal, and more sociological, note, both books, especially Dear Enemy, provide insight into the way orphans and dependent children were taken care of in the early-20th century, the clash between the "old man" and the "new woman", and theories of eugenics.