Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...
Required Reading: Your life will be meaningless if you haven't read these superstars of literature. See More...

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Climbed Up The Water Spout And Bankrolled College For Orphans

Alix reviews Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, a classic about a precocious orphan going off to college.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Climbed Up The Water Spout And Bankrolled College For Orphans

BOOK REPORT for Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Cover Story: What Is Wrong With You?
BFF Charm: OMG YES PLEASE!
Swoonworthy Scale: 2, 5, and -5
Talky Talk: Epistolary Awesomeness
Bonus Factors: Anne Shirley Award for Precocious Orphanhood, Women’s College, Patronage
Relationship Status: Separated At Birth

Cover Story: What Is Wrong With You?

So Megan no h introduced me to this book (THANK YOU MEGAN <3 <3 <3!!!), and she was kind enough to send me all her research on the subject. Including a collection of the world’s worst covers ever to besmirch the name of a really good book.

Ok this one's actually kind of good. I would read this. But this edition probably hasn't been in print for 50, 60 years? What else have you got for me, internet?

I have no idea what this cover is. Seriously, what the hell is this book about? Any guesses? No? Ok, well here are some other alternatives:

OMG LOOK OUT THERE IS A CREEPY MAN WHO FOLLOWED YOU HOME LURKING BEHIND YOU!

Barbara-Jean is hatching a plot that will lure hunky Steve Johnson into her clutches at last!

Is this dashing, top-hatted man the dreamy gentleman caller Emily has been waiting for, or the cold-blooded serial strangler known as "Daddy-Long-Legs," out for a night on the town in his murder gloves?

I

Precocious Orphan and book-lover Anne Shirley is inadvertently adopted by aging brother-sister duo, Marilla and Matthew Cuthb—wait, haven't I read this book already?

JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED! This book, with a bonus introduction by the author of The Baby-sitters Club! Because that makes all the sense in the world!

Hey it's essentially the same boring book cover, with less BSC! YAWN.

Oh look, an even uglier variation on the same lackluster theme.

This book is clearly about Dapper Jiminy Cricket showing up to offer Sad Woman fashion advice on her torn stockings and unruly hair.

What the actual fuck?! How has not a single publishing house taken this book and designed a half-decent cover for it? They don’t even have to pay author royalties because it was written in 1912 and is in the public domain. I’m blaming this book’s lack of popularity on this series of bad covers, ranging from merely dull to downright creepy.

The Deal:

First things first. Stop reading this review right now. Just trust me that it’s awesome and go to Amazon (or whatever your favorite site for ebooks is) and download it for FREE, and then we can talk. Ok, see you later!

Seriously, why are you still here? Don’t you listen to anything I have to say? Well, even though you deserve nothing from me since you don’t follow my instructions, I guess you can have a plot summary.

Jerusha “Judy” Abbott (jesus, what a name) has spent her whole life growing up in the John Grier Home, an asylum for foundlings. Although it’s not quite the Dickensian hell that many orphanages were at the time, Judy’s life is pretty bleak and monotonous. But one day, the head of the orphanage calls Judy into her office to explain that an anonymous benefactor—one of the orphanage Trustees—has elected to pay for her to go to college. In return for her tuition and living allowance, Judy must write him letters once a month but expect never to hear anything back in return. She spends the next four years documenting her life to a faceless stranger whom she calls Daddy-Long-Legs, because the only thing she ever saw of him was his tall, spindly shadow.

BFF Charm: OMG YES PLEASE!

JUDY IS AMAZING!!!!!!! I cannot overemphasize how awesome she is. She is HILARIOUS. I can’t believe this book was written in 1912, because most female characters back then were oh-so-proper and ladylike. That is, they were boring. Not Judy. Judy is unapologetically inappropriate. She’s Anne Shirley with Lady Sybil’s ideals and Elizabeth Bennet’s sharp wit and judgemental disposition. She also has absolutely no filter whatsoever. In other words, I love her. Here are some things she says, because I want to fit as many quotes into this review as possible:

On the subject of her revolting upper-crust roommate, Julia Rutherford Pendleton:

Her mother was a Rutherford. The family came over in the ark, and were connected by marriage with Henry the VIII. On her father's side they date back further than Adam. On the topmost branches of her family tree there's a superior breed of monkeys with very fine silky hair and extra long tails.

Speculating on the identity of Daddy-Long-Legs:

I hope you aren’t the Trustee who sat on the toad? It went off—I was told—with quite a pop, so probably he was a fatter Trustee.

On religion:

I find that it isn’t safe to discuss religion with the Semples. Their God (whom they have inherited intact from their remote Puritan ancestors) is a narrow, irrational, unjust, mean, revengeful, bigoted Person. Thank heaven I don’t inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He’s kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding—and He has a sense of humour.

On Shakespeare:

Speaking of classics, have you ever read Hamlet? If you haven’t, do it right off. It’s PERFECTLY CORKING. I’ve been hearing about Shakespeare all my life, but I had no idea he really wrote so well; I always suspected him of going largely on his reputation.

DON’T YOU LOVE HER ALREADY? Also, I’m introducing the phrase “perfectly corking” into my daily vocabulary.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2, 5, and -5

Judy has quite the selection of suitors, AS SHE SHOULD BECAUSE SHE IS THE BEST CHARACTER EVER.

First, there is her bestie Sallie McBride’s older brother, Jimmie. Jimmie is real sweet and real bland. He gets a two for looking good in a tux and being a good dancer.

Second, there is Awful Julia Pendleton’s Uncle Jervis, who is probably in his mid-thirties and is rather debonair. He visits Julia a few times and becomes quite smitten with Judy, and he gets points for being just a little bit of a bad boy. For 1912, that is. Despite being fabulously wealthy, he’s a Fabian Socialist type, which is the sexiest kind of rich person. He and Judy ditch church to go fishing, and he tries to convince her to come to Paris for the summer, where they can sneak away from her chaperones and go on picnics. SWOON. Five points to Gryffindor!

But the third love interest—the faceless Daddy-Long-Legs—gets negative five. There’s no other word for it, their relationship is just creepy. He singles out this girl from an orphanage and basically pays to manipulate her life. He’s clearly threatened by other men she meets, ordering her away from the likes of Jimmie McBride. He is also very miffed when Judy gets a scholarship and no longer relies on his support for tuition (She still, however, receives a living allowance from him). His presence would make the book extremely problematic were it not for Judy’s flagrant disregard for his manipulations. She rarely does anything he dictates, and often turns the manipulations back on him, getting him to bankroll her charity projects while sending back the extra money he tries to spend on her. Judy makes everything ok, even creepy old men with God complexes.

Talky Talk: Epistolary Awesomeness

Except for the introduction, this book is written entirely in letters from Judy to Daddy-Long-Legs. and IT’S AMAZING. Seriously, Webster is a genius. If you weren’t convinced by the quotes I put above, here are some more! ALL THE QUOTES!

This is how Judy starts her correspondence with her anonymous benefactor

There are just three things that I know:

I. You are tall.
II. You are rich.
III. You hate girls.

I suppose I might call you Dear Mr. Girl-Hater. Only that’s rather insulting to me. Or Dear Mr. Rich-Man, but that’s insulting to you, as though money were the only important thing about you. Besides, being rich is such a very external quality. Maybe you won’t stay rich all your life; lots of very clever men get smashed up in Wall Street. But at least you will stay tall all your life! So I’ve decided to call you Dear Daddy-Long-Legs.

She is so delightfully forward! And also rambly, in a good way. I could read Judy’s letters all day. Webster’s writing is also just a little bit silly, which I always appreciate:

Should you mind, just for a little while, pretending you are my grandmother? Sallie has one and Julia and Leonora each two, and they were all comparing them tonight. I can't think of anything I'd rather have; it's such a respectable relationship. So, if you really don't object—When I went into town yesterday, I saw the sweetest cap of Cluny lace trimmed with lavender ribbon. I am going to make you a present of it on your eighty-third birthday.
! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Furthermore, Webster was so ahead of her time. This book is filled with fist-pumping, feminist awesomeness, like when Judy rails on the misogynistic preachers who are always visiting her women’s college:

Why on earth don’t they go to men’s colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application?

And I just love this one:

Also—But what's the use of arguing with a man? You belong, Mr. Smith, to a sex devoid of a sense of logic. To bring a man into line, there are just two methods: one must either coax or be disagreeable. I scorn to coax men for what I wish. Therefore, I must be disagreeable.

Bonus Factor: Anne Shirley Award for Precocious Orphanhood

What is it with those orphans? They’re always so precocious! Well, you know, when they aren’t secretly growth-stunted Eastern European prostitutes hell-bent on ruining your life. But the rest of the time, when they are using their backwards orphan upbringing as an excuse to get away with saying hilarious and inappropriate things. And because I love things Judy says, here is another, particularly Anne-esque quote for you:

I suppose you're thinking now what a frivolous, shallow little beast she is, and what a waste of money to educate a girl?

But, Daddy, if you'd been dressed in checked ginghams all your life, you'd appreciate how I feel. And when I started to the high school, I entered upon another period even worse than the checked ginghams.

The poor box.

You can't know how I dreaded appearing in school in those miserable poor-box dresses. I was perfectly sure to be put down in class next to the girl who first owned my dress, and she would whisper and giggle and point it out to the others. The bitterness of wearing your enemies' cast-off clothes eats into your soul. If I wore silk stockings for the rest of my life, I don't believe I could obliterate the scar.

Love old-timey orphans.

Bonus Factor: Women’s College

It’s 1912, so Judy naturally attends a women’s college. And although no specific school is mentioned, given the geography, social class, and the fact that Webster herself attended Vassar, it’s safe to assume Judy attends a Seven Sister school, or some amalgamation of all of them.

I’m feeling sorry for everybody who isn’t a girl and who can’t come here; I am sure the college you attended when you were a boy couldn’t have been so nice.

This was very, very exciting for me as a graduate of one of the Seven Sisters (guess which one!). I went to college being kind of meh about the whole single sex education thing and came away as a rabid fan of women’s colleges (this is very common, actually). I am TOTALLY with Judy on this one. And even though this book takes place almost a century before I attended college, the traditions and strong feeling of sisterhood clearly haven’t changed much since then, because I got all teary and sentimental at some of her descriptions.

Plus, it was really nice to be reading about college rather than high school for a change. I love YA, but it’s good to sneak some New Adult in there sometimes, too.

Bonus Factor: Patronage

How much do I want a rich person to bankroll my life? SO MUCH. Besides my rapidly mounting student debt, it’s my lifelong dream to have a rich person give me all their money to spend on philanthropic things of my choosing. Except unlike Judy, I wouldn’t feel bad about it.

Casting Call:

There is already a movie version of this, which apparently takes fairly hefty liberties with the original source material. According to my mom, “Don't see the movie. It's maybe Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire—and he's way, way too old to be a hot Fabian Socialist.” So I shall cast my own! (Although apparently there is a famous South Korean version which I must track down immediately. You guys know how I feel about that kind of thing.)

Evanna Lynch as Judy

Chris Zylka as Jimmie McBride

Daddy Warbucks as Daddy-Long-Legs

And I rarely get to cast anyone over the age of 25, so I couldn’t decide on Jervie.

Top Hat JGL vs. Top Hat Cousin Matthew as Master Jervie

YOU CHOOSE! Let the Top Hat Showdown commence!

Relationship Status: Separated At Birth

This book and I are like long-lost siblings. I knew right away that we had a special connection; just a little ways into the book, I put down my kindle and sent two imperative e-mails. The first was to my mom and my sister, indignantly demanding to know why I’d never been introduced to this book before. And you know what? My sister had ALREADY READ IT and LOVED IT, yet I NEVER EVEN KNEW ABOUT IT. She is terrible and I hate her forever (My mom gets a pass because I always ignored her book suggestions anyway). The second email I sent was to everybody I know, telling them to stop whatever they were doing and read this book immediately.

The thing that is baffling to me is HOW this book could have have spent the last century sitting unloved in a dirty asylum for foundlings. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but only very slight. I’m sure some of you will have read (and loved!) this book, but probably the vast majority of you will have never even heard of it, like me. I currently attend a fairly old and respectable university, and we don’t even have it in our library. Despite being FREE on Amazon, this book only has 82 reviews. By contrast, Little Women has 622, and that book isn’t even good. Fucking Jane Eyre has 2,001! Why isn't this book as famous as Anne of Green Gables or any of the other classic “girls in dresses” books we pimp out to young girls in America? It can certainly hold its own against all of them.

So I implore you, go download this book right now. It’ll only take you an hour or two, and then you can come back here and vote for your favorite in the Top Hat Showdown. You can thank me later.

Daddy-Long-Legs is the FYA Book Club selection for July 2013!

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.
K