Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs was one of those stories-hard times and voila a miracle. It is about a young orphan, Jerusha ‘Judy’ Abbot, and a stroke of luck that takes her to college. This stroke of luck is an anonymous trustee of her orphanage, John Grier Home. He agrees to send her to college as he feels she has the potential to be a writer, on the condition that she write a letter to him each month keeping him updated on the progress she is making in college. But he won’t respond to any letter or meet her and she’ll never know his real identity.

She calls him Daddy Long Legs as she catches a glimpse of him and he is tall and long legged.

The book is a collection of these letters. It begins with girlish observations, her regret at having grown up in an orphanage and missing out on normal family life (finally making peace with it) and gathers depth as it goes on. It is humorous and peppered by childish line drawings.

Webster supported women’s right to vote and education, and institutional reform and you find her throwing her voice out through Jerusha.

“We must take care, he says, not to develop our intellects at the expense of our emotional nature….Why on earth don’t they go to men’s colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application?”

 

“Humility or resignation or whatever you choose to call it, is simply impotent inertia.”

 

“Duty was the one quality that was encouraged. I don’t think children ought to know the meaning of the word; it’s odious, detestable. They ought to do everything from love.”

 

At times I thought Jerusha was a little slow on the uptake and the last letter was too blah and too gushy mushy.

The book may have resonated more strongly at the time it was published than it does now. College life and the place of a woman in society have changed so much since then. But not so much so that it is entirely irrelevant. Still, it is a charming book and an easy read.

I find it hard to forgive stories that begin with a woman who battles all kinds of adversities only to have a happy ending. A happy ending that makes it necessary that she falls in love with a man. I would love to rewrite this story’s ending.

That was one reason why i liked Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance. It didn’t end on such a predictable note.

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