Daddy-Long-Legs-the epistolary coming –of –age novel

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1. Jean Webster’s real name was Alice Jane Webster. In 1912, she published a novel called Daddy-Long-Legs. The story had been printed in Ladies’ Home Journal in serial form, and turned out to be a best-seller when published. A sequel named Dear Enemy was published in 1915.

2. Daddy- Long-Legs was written in the form of letters. This literary style is known as the epistolary form. Webster illustrated the book herself, using simple but effective line drawings.

3. Jean Webster came from a well-to-do and highly educated background. Mark Twain was her great-uncle and her father was a publisher. She studied English and Economics in Vassar College, and had strong feminist and socialist views. These opinions are reflected in Daddy-Long-Legs, in which the female protagonist is from an orphanage. Webster was of the opinion that orphanages, though humane, suppressed creativity and individuality.

4. Despite these setbacks, the heroine, Jerusha Abbott has a markedly individualistic personality. She expresses her own concept of God as a benevolent, humorous entity. She attracts the attention of a wealthy trustee who offers to pay her college fees on the condition that she regularly writes to her anonymous benefactor. Here again, readers are exposed to Webster’s notion that women greatly benefit from higher education.

5. Another of Webster’s causes was voting rights for women. ‘Judy’, as Jerusha later calls herself, passionately espouses this cause in her letters to her sponsor. The novel is devoid of authoritarian figures, as they supposedly dampen the zealous spirits of young women.

6. Some scholars believe that the character of Judy was modelled on Webster’s friend and college roommate, Adelaide Crapsey. Both women shared socialist beliefs, and were of the firm opinion that women were pivotal to social reform. As Daddy-Long-Legs progresses, the readers become aware of the insecurity of educated, socially aware young women who feel forced to compromise on their ideals. The solution is presented as a male-female union in which both partners treat each other as equals, where the woman must marry on her own terms.

7. In 1914, Daddy-Long-Legs was adapted by Webster as a play. This production was well received, and travelled all over the country. Subsequently, at least 3 Hollywood film versions were produced, though only the first one was faithful to the original story. The version starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron is the most popular.

8. Daddy-Long-Legs inspired many across the world. The story itself has been translated into about 20 languages. In Britain, it appeared in the form of a musical called With Love From Judy. It was a favourite in Japan, where it was broadcast on TV as a musical in the anime genre in 1979. Then, in 1990, another version was produced as a Japanese TV serial. In Kerala, India, the story was adapted to make a critically acclaimed Malayalam film in 1984. Even as recently as 2014, the play was staged in Hong Kong.

9. Webster’s literary efforts served to spread awareness about various social concerns. She directly addressed young women, dedicating Daddy-Long-Legs to her readers (To You). Her influence was also felt in the number of Daddy-Long-Legs Leagues that were formed for the welfare of orphans. This trend was followed in Japan as well, where a charity for orphans has been named after the book. She was one of the many influential individuals who raised the call for voting rights to be given to women.

10. In 1915, Webster married Glenn Ford McKinney, a divorcee and brother of a good friend. Less than a year later, she died on June 11th, 1916, a day after delivering a baby girl. At the time of her death, she was an extremely popular and well-known author. Though she wrote many books, Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy remain the most loved of her titles.

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