Daddy-Long-Legs – Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs

This is an early 20th Century novel aimed at “college girls”, which would be a standard young adult market today. On the surface, it is an enjoyable charming set of letters which read quickly and paint a picture of a girl who is escaping a fairly grim background in an orphanage with a generous benefactor who is sponsoring her through college.

I have a fondness for books told entirely through letters, the pace at which they go and the difficulty in conveying information which happens in the gaps. I also like writing them, there’s something special about sending a nice handwritten letter. And even more special to receive one.

The “but” which follows involves spoilers…

But the twist at the end in which she accepts a proposal of marriage from her wealthy benefactor makes the whole book an uncomfortable read. Her deciding to take a wealthy husband rather than become a renowned author in her own right is problematic enough. The fact that this husband is her benefactor to whom she feels greatly indebted and who has controlled her social interactions and limited her contact with other potential suitors over the previous four years is deeply uncomfortable.

This book is of course a product of its time, in which marriages between equals were not the norm, and does make attempts to promote women’s suffrage. That doesn’t make the promotion of such an imbalanced relationship sit any more comfortably, the power is far too firmly on one side in every respect and this isn’t even recognised.

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