I can’t tell you when I originally read Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs. Maybe it was about seventh grade. But, the Arizona Theatre Company will be performing the play in January, so I wanted to brush up on the story.
Daddy-Long-Legs was written in 1912. When I went to look for it, we didn’t have a copy in the library system. We did have a graphic novel, though. It’s a “Manga Literary Classic.” Y.kids published a series of classics illustrated in manga style to make the stories more approachable for young readers. The book also includes a short biography of Jean Webster as well as a timeline of her life. I’m definitely not the generation who appreciates the art of Manga. I found myself ignoring the illustrations and reading the story.
And, I found myself loving Daddy-Long-Legs just as much as I did when I read it forty years ago. It’s just as romantic and inspiring as it was then. But, how times have changed. Nowadays, people might have problems with an older man having an eighteen-year-old girl write to him while he controlled her life.
Jerusha Abbott grew up in the John Grier Home, a home for orphans. She was allowed to stay for two extra years because she helped with the other ninety-some orphans. But, when she was eighteen, a trustee took an interest in her, after reading an essay. He offered to send her to college to be a writer. And, he just wanted a letter a month to tell him what was happening in school.
So, Jerusha Abbott went off to college, and discovered a whole new world. She also learned what her education was lacking. She hadn’t heard of Michelangelo or Mark Twain. She “Never read Mother Goose, David Copperfield, Ivanhoe, Cinderella, Bluebeard, Robinson Crusoe, Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, or a word of Rudyard Kipking. I have never seen da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and I had never heard of Sherlock Holmes.” Along with a college education, Jerusha determined to educate herself through reading everything she could.
And, Jerusha Abbott changed her life, becoming Judy Abbott. She wrote of all her discoveries and changes, writing letters to the benefactor she never knew. Through the course of four years of college, she showed her independence, accepting gifts from him for a couple years, then showing him she wanted to pay him back and determine her own course in life. And, she wrote to him, telling him of the two men in her life. One was the brother of one college roommate, a student at Princeton. And, the other was the uncle of her wealthy roommate, but a man who wasn’t as snooty as her roommate.
There’s really no great surprise for the reader in Daddy-Long-Legs. Even as a young reader, I recognized who Judy’s benefactor was long before she met him face to face. But, there’s a reason this book is a classic. Forty years after reading it, and almost one hundred years after it was written, Daddy-Long-Legs is still a wonderful, romantic novel, no matter what form it comes in. Read the book, the graphic novel, or watch the movie with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. I can’t wait, now, to see Arizona Theatre Company’s production of the story.
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Manga Literary Classics series. YoungJin Singapore Pte. Ltd. ©2008. ISBN 9789810575540 (paperback), 144p.
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