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Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster is a hundred year old epistolary novel about a young woman getting a chance to follow her dreams because of the sponsorship of an unnamed benefactor. The story follows Jershua "Judy" Abbott through her college education and the early days of her career as a writer.
I come to the book, though, through the 1955 film adaptation staring Fred Astaire as the titular character and Leslie Caron as Judy (renamed Julie for the movie). While the gist of the film is the same as the book: older man provides money for a younger woman's college education — the set up is completely different and more troubling. At the time the film was made, Fred Astaire was more than twice Leslie Caron's age. Although he plays a young-at-heart character (one enamored with rock and roll drumming), he is still clearly old enough to be her father.
So it was with an uneasy curiosity that I read Jean Webster's book.
The differences between the film and original source material are immediately apparent. First and foremost — the setting is domestic. Judy, though still an orphan, has been raised in the United States. She is not an exotic — post WWII French teacher of French orphans. She is, instead, an American contemporary with LM Montgomery's Anne Shirley. Judy's experience at the orphanage and her sponsorship into an American university, is therefore, recognizable and credible — something the film version can't pull off.
In the film, there is a heavy dose of voyeurism of the dirty old man variety as Julie's benefactor befriends her under false pretenses and otherwise keeps an eye on her. Of course voyeurism is part and parcel of film story telling but it's clearly at odds here with the source material. In the book, Judy and Jervys (changed to Jervis in the film), do meet and become friends, as he keeps up the secret identity as her benefactor. But their meeting is circumstantial and as he's significantly closer in age to her (late twenties/early thirties to her late teens/early twenties), it is far more plausible that she and he would become more than just friends.
Judy's letters are written in a believable, charming voice that rings true a century later — and I suspect well into the next century. Along with her quirky turns of phrase are drawings, little sketches that Judy sometimes sends along in her missives. They too add to the overall appeal of the novel.
Keeping all those thoughts in mind, I adore the novel. It is delightful. Anyone who loves LM Montgomery's books or anyone who is a fan of Louise Rennison's books, will enjoy Daddy-Long-Legs.
Comment #1: Thursday, May, 24, 2012 at 00:14:52
I clicked on this review because I used to watch "Daddy Long Legs" as a kid. Clearly I was too young to understand any subtext and liked it only for the dancing (loved Fred Astaire). Now I'm *really* interested in seeing the movie as an adult.
Comment #2: Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 16:56:01
I loved the dancing and songs too of the movie as a kid. I still do but the performances are odd given the romantic aspect and their age differences. I do, though, recommend reading the book if you havne't. It's a quick but delightful book. You can read it in an afternoon.
Comment #3: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 02:35:01
I like a quick read, so I'll see if I can find this one on ibooks. :)
Comment #4: Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 23:12:01
If you can't find it there, Project Gutenberg has it.