DADDY LONG LEGS by JEAN WEBSTER

Daddy-Long-Legs is a 1912 epistolary novel by the American writer Jean (Alice) Webster. It follows the protagonist, a young girl named Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, through her college years. She writes the letters to her benefactor, a rich man whom she has never seen.

Plot: (beware: spoilers)

Jerusha Abbott was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. The children were compeletely dependent on charity and had to wear other people's cast-off clothes. Jerusha's unusual first name was selected by the matron off a gravestone (she hates it and uses "Judy" instead), while her surname was selected out of the phone book. At the age of 17, she finished her education and is at loose ends, still working in the dormitories at the institution where she was brought up.

One day, after the asylum's trustees have made their monthly visit, Judy is informed by the asylum's dour matron that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. He has spoken to her former teachers and thinks she has potential to become an excellent writer. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance. Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity; she must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply.

Judy catches a glimpse of the shadow of her benefactor from the back, and knows he is a tall long-legged man. Because of this, she jokingly calls him Daddy-Long-Legs. She attends a "girls' college" on the East Coast. She illustrates her letters with childlike line drawings, also created by Jean Webster.

The book chronicles Judy's educational, personal, and social growth. One of the first things she does at college is to change her name to "Judy." She designs a rigorous reading program for herself and struggles to gain the basic cultural knowledge to which she, growing up in the bleak environment of the orphan asylum, was never exposed.

At the end of the book, the identity of 'Daddy-Long-Legs' is revealed as Jervis Pendleton, whom she had met and fallen in love with while she was still unaware that he was 'Daddy-Long-Legs.' (from wikipedia)


Some readers feel that "Daddy Long Legs" is rather controversial, even slighty "tacky", given today's conventions. They are uncomfortable with the age difference between Judy and "John Smith", not to mention the power differential, with Judy being a penniless foundling, and Jervis being very, very wealthy. Movie versions have handled this in various ways. In the early silent version, featuring Mary Pickford as Judy, there is a 12 years difference. In the 1935 film, "Curly Top", Judy seems to split between Shirley Temple as the cute orphan, and her older sister, played by Rochelle Hudson, who is the one who falls in love with their benefactor. In the 1955 version, Fred Astair is 32 years older than Leslie Caron, and attempts to adopt Judy before settling on merely sponsoring her, and then falling in love. As with the original novel, Judy is 18 when she first meets Jervis.

And that really is the point. Judy is, in the novel, 18, when "Mr Smith" sponsors her to go to college, and by the time she meets the real man, Jervis, she is at least 21. The novel is sometimes criticised as being a story about a man grooming a younger girl. But if one reads the novel, one sees that Judy is actually a strong character who knows what she wants and does not want. She often takes 'Daddy Long Legs' to task for being unreasonable and she even defies him a time or two; benefactor or not. She is grateful to him for his help in enabling her to gain further education, but she does not feel that she beholden to him. And in the end, when she discovers who he really is, and that he is the man she had fallen in love with without knowing that he was her benefactor, she is the one who just about proposes to him!