Monday, March 24, 2014

After a hiatus...A book review!!!

Original title: Daddy-Long-Legs written by Jean Webster
Published by Pigeon Books India in 2010 and reprinted in 2011, 2012 and 2013
No. of Pages: 159

 “The Life and Letters of Judy Abbott”
(Jerusha’s future book as an author)
Jean Webster, the niece of Mark Twain born as Alice Jane Webster on July 24, 1876. Her great grand mother worked on temperance issues which meant bringing in the anti- alcohol legislation and her grand mother worked on racial equality and women suffrage. All this has an influence on Jean’s writing style. Her school asked her if she could use another name as her roommate was also Alice and she chose ‘Jean’ which is a variation of her middle name ‘Jane’. She majored in English and Economics and as she took a course in welfare and penal reform, she became interested in social issues. This led her to visit many delinquent/remand/destitute homes, prison visits, involvement in fundraising and adoption of children, themes which are seen in two of her famous books ‘Daddy- Long- Legs’ and its sequel ‘Dear Enemy’. She lived to see the dramatization of Daddy- Long- Legs at Gaiety Theatre, Broadway with Ruth Chatterton as Judy Abbott. She died on died June 11, 1916 of fever after child birth.
Jerusha “Judy” Abbott as the protagonist is called is an orphan brought up at John Grier Home. When she was eighteen, one of the trustees of the Home decides to fund her college education, something which is a shock to Jerusha. He believes that she has the potential to become a writer for which she has to write monthly letters to this trustee, who wishes to be addressed as ‘John Smith’ and he would never reply. Jerusha, as she is initially called, catches a glimpse of her benefactor’s shadow and notices that he has long legs and decides to call him ‘Daddy- Long- Legs’ which is actually the name of a long-legged spider. Jerusha then attends a women’s college and writes interestingly illustrated letters to John Smith or Daddy-Long- Legs. She shares a room with a rich girl Miss Julia Peddleton and a middle class girl Miss Sallie Mcbride.
The book is divided into two parts: The first being – Blue Wednesday and the second part- The Letters of Miss Jerusha Abbott to Mr. Daddy Long Legs. The first part is written from the third person point of view telling us about Jerusha’s life in John Grier Home and how John Smith decides to pay for her education. The second part proceeds with the plot in the form of letters from Jerusha to John Smith aka Daddy-Long-Legs. John Smith’s rare letters are type written and received by Jerusha through his secretary Walter Griggs. Four years of her life come forth through these letters and so do all the physical, mental, emotional and social growth of Jerusha into a wonderful woman.
Being young adult literature, the book is ahead of its time on its views of adolescence and women rights, a style which is followed by L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables series and Louisa May Alcott, author of A Rose in Bloom and Little Women.
The author has wonderfully designed the book to include various styles of writing within the letters of Jerusha. The strengths of the book are the themes that flow within the book, its easy-to-read style, its borrowing from famous literature authors and the development of the plot through letters. The weaknesses of the book are the need to know more about John Smith’s reactions and responses when he receives Jerusha’s letters which subtly come through but are not well-defined. The twist in the plot requires more coverage in this book and not in its sequel, ‘Dear Enemy’.
The themes that author deals with are many:
·         The differences in the ways teachers look at school subjects.
(‘The test of true scholarship,’ says Chemistry Professor ‘is a painstaking passion for detail.’
‘Be careful not to keep your eyes glued to detail,’ says History Professor. Stand far enough away to get a perspective of the whole.’- Pg.69-part 2)
·  The influence of education on Jerusha’s style of letters.
(And now I suppose you've been waiting very impatiently to hear what I am learning?
I.                   Latin: Second Punic war. Hannibal and his forces pitched camp at Lake Trasimenus last night. They prepared an ambuscade for the Romans, and a battle took place at the fourth watch this morning. Romans in retreat.
II.                 French: 24 pages of the Three Musketeers and third conjugation, irregular verbs.
III.             Geometry: Finished cylinders; now doing cones.
IV.             English: Studying exposition. My style improves daily in clearness and brevity.
V.                 Physiology: Reached the digestive system. Bile and the pancreas next time.
Yours, on the way to being educated,- Pg.18-part 2)
·  The different styles of addressing her benefactor which also shows Jerusha’s growing affinity to John Smith and portrays her different moods.
(Dear Kind-Trustee-Who-Sends-Orphans-to-College, Pg12, part2)
 (Dearest Daddy-Long-Legs –Pg50, part2)
(Dear D.-L.-L.Pg116, part2)
(My dear Mr. Smith. Pg117, part2)
· The different styles of closing a letter which depicts the education that she is receiving and also the free space that she shares with John Smith.
 (Au revoir,
            Je vous aime beaucoup.
                                    Judy Pg 45, part 2)
(Yours in politics,
            J.Abbott Pg.60, part 2)
(I remain,
            Yours most graciously,
                        Queen of Denmark pg73, part 2)
·         Socialism over other -isms
(You know, I think I'll be a Socialist, too. You wouldn't mind, would you, Daddy? They're quite different from Anarchists; they don't believe in blowing people up. Pg. 114, part 2 )
(Did I tell you that I have been elected a member of the Senior Dramatic Club? Very recherché organization. Only seventy-five members out of one thousand. Do you think as a consistent Socialist that I ought to belong? Pg.121, part 2)
·  Influence of R. L. Stevenson
( I didn't know that R. L. S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady. Pg. 26, part 2)
(Ship Ahoy, Cap'n Long-Legs!
Avast! Belay! Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum. Guess what I'm reading? Our conversation these past two days has been nautical and piratical. Isn't Treasure Island fun? Did you ever read it, or wasn't it written when you were a boy? Stevenson only got thirty pounds for the serial rights--I don't believe it pays to be a great author. Maybe I'll be a school-teacher.
Excuse me for filling my letters so full of Stevenson; my mind is very much engaged with him at present. He comprises Lock Willow's library. Pg. 101, part 2)
· Judy’s philosophy of life.
(I know lots of girls (Julia, for instance) who never know that they are happy. They are so accustomed to the feeling that their senses are deadened to it; but as for me--I am perfectly sure every moment of my life that I am happy. And I'm going to keep on being, no matter what unpleasant things turn up. I'm going to regard them (even toothaches) as interesting experiences, and be glad to know what they feel like. `Whatever sky's above me, I've a heart for any fate.' Pg.142, part2)
For its audience, young adults, the book seems to hit bull’s eye as the book identifies well with the thoughts and views of a young adult. Jerusha is an appropriate role-model for young girls who discovers for herself, the true meaning of happiness and grows into a woman who has not forgotten her roots and feels the need to do something for children who were not as lucky as she happened to be. The book leaves and open ending about Jerusha’s life which is covered by the sequel. Finally to quote Jerusha aka Judy quoting R. L. S.,
“The world is so full of a number of things,
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

P.s. This was a part of an assignment. Happy reading! :)

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