Almost 100 years after it was written, here I am reading Daddy-Long-Legs. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how much you read, or how much you think you know about books, you there will always be hidden treasures for you to find? This very short story (perfect for a readaton) became one of my favorite epistolary novels, together with Last Days of Summer and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

It’s about an American orphan named Jerusha “Judy” Abbott, whose writing gets the attention of one of her orphanage’s patrons. This man, who she’s never met, offers to pay for her college education in exchange for monthly ”report” letters. She doesn’t even know his name but decides to call him Daddy-Long-Legs because she once glimpsed his long shadow.

These letters are always one-sided and her voice is funny, full of energy and incredibly easy to empathize with, especially since you get to see her catch up on all the books she’s never read before:

I never read Mother Goose or David Copperfield or Ivanhoe or Cinderella or Blue Beard or Robinson Crusoe or Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland or a word of Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t know that Henry the Eighth was married more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth. I didn’t know that R.L.S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady. I had never seen a picture of the Mona Lisa and (it’s true but you won’ believe it) I had never heard of Sherlock Holmes.

This enthusiasm for discovering new things and an unabashed joie de vivre are not as annoying as they might sound, and Webster has my respect for not turning Judy into another Pollyanna. There are snarly remarks, some tantrums and the occasional blue moment, but Judy is all the more real for it.

Did you notice the reference to Evolution? Although at first sight this might be just another charming novel about a gifted and spunky orphan, but it feels incredibly advanced. Comparisons with Anne Shirley and Jo March are unavoidable, but Judy is more revolutionary: she believes in Evolution, supports the Suffrage Movement and (gasp!) wants to be a socialist.

You know, I think I’ll be a Socialist, too. You wouldn’t mind, would you, Daddy? They’re quite different from Anarchists; they don’t believe in blowing people up. Probably I am one by rights; I belong to the proletariat. I haven’t determined yet just which kind I am going to be. I will look into the subject over Sunday, and declare my principles in my next.

I can’t imagine Anne or Jo writing something similar. Even if they’re famous for their progressiveness, I always felt that reputation was mostly due to their decision to shun marriage and become financially independent, which didn’t turn out quite as they planned.

It was also fun to know about the routine of a women’s college at that time. Similar descriptions were some of my favorite parts of the Green Gables series, and the reason I enjoyed the Mallory Towers and The Twins at St Claire’s so much.

In the background of all this there’s the mystery of who exactly her anonymous benefactor is and Judy’s romantic interest(s). A lot to put in less than 200 pages, but it works perfectly.

The book and its sequel are available for free on Gutenberg.

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Other thoughts: The Written Wordthings mean a lot, Shelf Love, Stella Matutina

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