I dropped everything I was reading for a day to re-read an old favorite, Daddy-Long-Legs (Puffin Classics). It was first published in 1912 by Jean Webster, but I have the terrifying 1960’s cover with stupid Leslie Caron on it. (Okay, I don’t hate her in other things, but she’s so terribly wrong for this character that I have to pretend the movie doesn’t exist.) One of the little collections I have is girl-goes-to-college books from the early 1900’s. I have no idea what sparked this interest, but I can tell you more about the social customs and mores of women’s colleges circa 1910 than you would ever want to know. And you may think that you’d reach that level of want-to-know pretty fast, but you’ll be sorry when you miss the paper chase instructions (It’s a real thing! Not just an awesome law-school series!) and don’t get to eat waffles and lobster afterwards. (Also a real thing! I don’t know why!)
Sorry, I got a little sidetracked by the sheer joy of college books, but this one is extra special. Most of these feature girls all from the same (upper) social class, since girls going to college wasn’t so common, but this one has orphan Jerusha Abbott, sponsored by a rich trustee to attend college, with the only stipulation being that she write him a letter once a month, to sharpen her writing skills. Jerusha is a marvelous character, a blend of whimsical and practical, but she’s had too much hardship to ever be silly or frivolous. There are small heartbreaks in her letters to the trustee, who she names Daddy-Long-Legs since all she knows about him is that he’s tall and rich and it seems rude to name him after his money. When she rechristens herself as Judy, it’s an attempt to shake off the orphanage, but she knows she’s only pretending.
I wish Mrs. Lippett would use a little more ingenuity about choosing babies names. She gets the last names out of the telephone book – you’ll find Abbott on the first page – and she picks the Christian names up anywhere; she got Jerusha from a tombstone. I’ve always hated it; but I rather like Judy. It’s such a silly name. It belongs to the kind of girl I’m not – a sweet little blue-eyed thing, petted and spoiled by all the family, who romps her way through life without any cares. Wouldn’t it be nice to be like that? What-ever faults I may have, no one can ever accuse me of being spoiled by my family! But it’s sort of fun to pretend I’ve been.
We only see Judy’s side of the correspondence, as she grows to love this guardian as a trusted advisor and her only family, and it’s funny. And, because it’s the 1910’s version of a Young Adult novel, Judy has grown very fond of another man, too - the surprisingly tall and rich uncle of her college friend, Sally. I don’t even have to wink, wink for you to guess this one, right?
There’s a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs called Dear Enemy, where Sally from college is sent to the orphanage to completely renovate it and remove all the things that Judy hated so much about growing up there, and I love it just as much. Keep your eyes out for a copy of both and let me know if you find Daddy-Long-Legs in hardback. I would love to get that simpering French chick off my cover.
Ooooh, are you guys in LUCK! I just went to Amazon to link to the book and they are all free on Kindle and Kindle apps. Go here.