Daddy-Long-Legs – Jean Webster

So I’m in the hamster wheel that is job applications at the moment, and a couple days ago, I submitted a job application that brought me much joy. Like… even if I don’t get an interview for this job, I will still be happy, because applying for this job was so lovely!

Those of you who have been through job hunting recently may be thinking I’m ready for the loony bin, but the reason I so enjoyed applying for this job was because, instead of asking for the standard CV and cover letter, this job asked for the applicants to write a cover letter about their favourite classic book, and why everyone should get to experience it. That’s right – I applied for a job with a book report!!

Now, I know I am not the only book-lover to struggle with the question of ‘favourite’ book; we all know that’s an impossible choice. The protagonist of today’s subject novel even herself says:

What do you think is my favourite book? Just now, I mean; I change every three days.

Yep, that sounds about right! But, in looking through a list of classics to help me choose a good one to write about, I knew this was the right choice, because of all the candidates I shortlisted, this was the one that made me, upon spotting the title, shout out loud in delight. “Oh!” I cried. “Daddy-Long-Legs! I love that book!” Considering I first read it at about nine years old, that my love has lasted *coughcoughmumble* years speaks to the quality and joyfulness of this delightful story.

Anyway, this is the book I chose to write about, and of course I then had to embark on a re-read, so I’ve included an edited version of my report as a review here.

CartoonDaddyLongLeg
 

I was going to include an actual image of a Daddy-Long-Legs, but I’m genuinely terrified of them. So I didn’t. Even this one creeps me out a little, tbh.

 

Daddy-Long-Legs is an epistolary novel, capturing the fictional letters of an orphan girl who gets sponsored to study at college by a mysterious trustee.  One of the conditions of her sponsorship is that she must write letters to her anonymous benefactor, as he believes that letter-writing improves the author’s art. She will not receive replies, and is to address them to ‘John Smith’, as he is to remain unknown to her. And that is the gist of it!

However, just because it appears simple (and is often categorised as Children’s Lit), does not mean there is not complexity to be found. I first read this delightful story as a young girl, and after many re-reads I know that in its simplicity, it captures echoes of many of the themes of those stories which I love the most. There are allusions to the inherent unfairness and injustice of the world (how Judy, the main character, is offended by the Bishop’s inhuman views on the poor!), and the wittiness and clever social commentary that is loved in the works of Austen; but perhaps most importantly, it is the voice of a young girl telling her own story despite the fact that much of her life was without her control. That, to me, is a great example of everyday feminism – the kind which benefits all genders – because while young Jerusha (great name) is not a suffragette, nor does she write essays on the subject of gender equality, nor even is she a particularly exceptional example of a pioneering woman, it is her voice, and her voice alone which we hear. She gets to tell her own story, and she has thoughts and opinions about all of it – especially the unjust parts! I love this ordinary, extraordinary example of how a woman can shape and discover her own identity, even when her destiny is entirely dependent on the whims of others. Everyone should have the chance to access that kind of unpretentious inspiration.

There are more reasons, too, for choosing Daddy-Long-Legs when considering which of my favourites everyone should experience. Webster’s epistolary novel was my first introduction to a different style of storytelling and (as well as teaching me the word epistolary) opened my eyes as a young reader to the options beyond ‘once upon a time’. It’s also accessible; again, this was one of my first experiences of classic literature (the Chronicles of Narnia and Famous Five notwithstanding) and while I know many people may be put off by the perception of classic literature being highbrow, boring, out of date, or only for hipsters and snobs, Webster’s easy-going style and excellent character development persuaded nine-year-old me that other ‘old books’ might also be worth reading! Re-discovering this classic as an adult was like meeting once again a childhood friend, and brought me the same fond delight. This is a friend I would love to introduce to anyone and everyone… it’s my favourite (for these three days)!

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