I’ve always had a penchant for books that consist of a compilation of letters, whether fictional or not. This penchant might be explained by the numerous letters I’ve exchanged with pen-pals and friends over the years, but whatever the reason it still remains: I love stories that are written in letter form. I love you, Ronnie, by Nancy Reagan. 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
And Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster.
It’s a simple story and a predictable one at that, but it’s a cute one that I can’t help but re-read every now and then. Jerusha (dubbed “Judy” by herself) Abbott is eighteen years old and the oldest orphan still living at the John Grier Home when she’s given the chance of a lifetime. She’s to go to college on a scholarship funded by an anonymous trustee who has only stipulation: that Judy send him one letter per month, updating him on her life at school. She’s to address the letters to Mr. Smith and never expect a letter in return. Judy, however, catches a glimpse of her benefactor from the back and seeing the long-legged and spidery shadow he casts on the wall, dubs him, “Daddy-Long-Legs.”
And thus begins the chronicle of the next four years of her life in college, all in letter form. Judy writes to Daddy-Long-Legs and tells him just about everything. Living outside of the orphanage for the first time in her life, the whole world is an adventure and Judy writes about it all.
Judy’s voice in writing letters is whimsical and disarming, ranging from poignant entries about life at the home to exasperation at addressing her letters to an unknown entity, but always with a sense of humor. Daddy-Long-Legs is Jean Webster’s most popular book and it’s easy to see why.
Little bit of trivia: Jean Webster was Mark Twain’s great-niece.