Wednesday, April 22, 2009

REVIEW: Daddy-Long-Legs

Webster, J. (1989). Daddy-Long-Legs. New York: Puffin Books.


Originally published in 1912, this classic shares the experiences of an orphan girl who is sent to college by an anonymous shareholder at her orphanage to become a writer. The one catch? Judy must send a letter to her benefactor each month, which she willingly does, while giving him the name Daddy-Long-Legs. As she wonders who the anonymous donor is, she adjusts to college, living outside of the orphanage and dealing with classmates who come from more privileged backgrounds than her own. She also struggles with deciding what to do as a career, her devotion to her benefactor and her relationships with one of her roommate’s brother and the other roommate’s uncle.

Readers, be warned, this is old-school chick lit. So, if a teacher wanted to incorporate it into their classroom, it would be best as an elective book or a book for literature circles. I’ll admit, I have assigned it to everyone in my undergrad classes, without warning them. But then, I’m cruel like that. And I think boys need to work on being able to take on female protagonists’ perspectives more often.

Also be warned, as the letters progress, Judy takes to calling her anonymous benefactor “Daddy,” a name that may feel slightly creepy under current cultural associations with the word. “Dear Daddy…” *Icky shiver*

This epistolary novel includes subtle references to early twentieth century culture, communism and the women’s movement that a teacher could latch onto and build lessons around. Also, since the book is built upon the assumption that given the opportunity, anyone can achieve, the book can be connected to the American dream or to biographies of real women how were economically successful at the time.

Also, Judy briefly considers how she engages with a novel and imagines herself in the role of a character (p. 84). A teacher could emphasize this moment and encourage students to do the same with the books they read.

Activities to do with the book:

Since the majority of the book is shared as letters, a teacher could share different types of letter writing (with technological allowance for learning how to write emails). A super-cool teacher, could also encourage a discussion on how texts, Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets could all be used to create ongoing narratives.

A teacher could also assign research paper or presentations on various aspects of the historical context or on real women who had biographies similar to Judy’s fictional narrative (Madam CJ Walker could be a starting point).

This is a good book to have students analyze for how relationships are influenced by power and how characters’ levels of power shift throughout the book.

Favorite Quotes:

“The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day—a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste” (p. 1).

“Your board and tuition will be paid directly to the college, and you will receive in addition during the four years you are there, an allowance of thirty0five dollars a month. This will enable you to enter on the same standing as the other students. The money will be sent to you by the gentleman’s private secretary once a month, and in return, you will write a letter of acknowledgment once a month” (p. 8).

“Having somebody take an interest in me after all these years, makes me feel as though I had found a sort of family. It seems as thought I belonged to somebody now, and it’s a very comfortable sensation” (p. 14).

“It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh—I really think that requires spirit” (p. 49).

“I put myself to sleep every night by pretending I’m the person (the most important person) in the book I’m reading at the moment” (p. 84).

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