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Literature / Daddy-Long-Legs

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Daddy-Long-Legs, written in 1912 and set at about the same time, is Jean Webster's best-known novel (not to be confused with the webcomic of the same name).

Jerusha "Judy" Abbott is an orphan, having been raised in the unpleasant John Grier Home, which is run by a board of trustees. One of the trustees, whose name is unknown to her except through the pseudonym of 'John Smith,' is impressed by a humorous essay she writes and volunteers to send her to college to study writing. The only condition he places on the generous gift is that she write him regular letters to inform him of her progress, her activities, and her plans. Outside of the first chapter, which sets up the story, these letters form the entire novel. Judy catches one glimpse of her anonymous benefactor from behind, and her only impression of him is that he is very tall and thin; she therefore dubs him Daddy-Long-Legs, and begins to affectionately view him as the father she's never had.

"Daddy" and the reader follow Judy through four years of school and join her as she meets new people — friendly Sallie McBride, Sallie's good-natured brother Jimmie, snobbish Julia Pendleton, and Julia's handsome young uncle Jervis. She spends her summers on a charming farm, tries very hard to become a writer, and falls in love.

The book has received several film adaptations. It was made in 1919 with Mary Pickford and in 1931 with Janet Gaynor, and looser adaptations in 1935 with Shirley Temple (that one titled Curly Top) and in 1955 with Fred Astaire. The 1955 version was modified to the point where it almost qualifies for In Name Only (among other things, Judy's name is changed to Julie, possibly because the character is now French). It was adapted into two anime productions: a 1979 TV special, and, eleven years later, an installment of World Masterpiece Theater, My Daddy Long Legs (Watashi no Ashinaga Ojisan). There's also a two person musical adaptation of it that's been going since 2009.

The less-well-known sequel is Dear Enemy, published a few years later, in which Judy convinces her old college friend Sallie to take the helm of the John Grier Home and turn it into a warmer and kinder place. Sallie, reluctant at first, becomes very invested in the lives of the orphans, but frequently finds herself butting heads with the eponymous 'Enemy,' her nickname for the asylum's staff physician, Dr. Robin MacRae.

The original novel contains examples of:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Judy makes one of these, sort of, when explaining to Daddy about her feelings for the man she loves. She doesn't realize they're the same person.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: Daddy
  • Benevolent Boss: Sallie's father, who hosts Christmas parties every year for his factory workers' children and gives them presents.
  • Bilingual Bonus: One of Judy's letters is written during French class, so most of the letter is written in French. In said letter, she expresses how much she hates the John Grier Home and is excited to hear about Locke Willow Farm.
  • Book Dumb: Judy is a mild case, best seen in one of her early letters where she talks about all she's learned in college. While she's quite intelligent (hence her Scholarship Student status) Judy was clearly educationally neglected, and in order to even attend the local high school the matron made it clear that Judy's duty to the orphanage was to be put above her schooling, and Judy was kept out of school a good deal to clean as well. For example, she thought Michelangelo was the name of an archangel, was never told fairy tales, and so on.
  • Costume Porn: Judy gushes at length about the dresses she is able to buy now that she has money.
  • Down on the Farm: Judy spends her summers on Locke Willow Farm. At first she enjoys it, but grows bored quickly despite her fondness. She is fond enough of it to consider it home after graduation, at least.
  • Easily Forgiven: When Judy learns that Jervis is Daddy-Long-Legs, she never takes him to task for his whole deception and jealous manipulation of her, although this can be justified since he was recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia and she was so happy.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Judy hates her real first name, Jerusha, and mentions in one letter that the matron of the John Grier Home got it from a tombstone when trying to name the abandoned infant. When she gets to college, she goes by Judy.
  • Epistolary Novel: Almost the entire story is told through Judy's letters to her benefactor.
  • The Ghost: Daddy, who is never seen (or so the reader thinks) until Judy's very last letter.
  • Girl Next Door: Sallie McBride, as well as Judy herself.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Daddy very generously supplies Judy with money to purchase new clothes, and she gushes at length about her beautiful dresses.
  • Granny Classic: Mrs. Semple of Lock Willow Farm, and Sallie's grandma is said to be this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In the later years of Judy's college career, there are several instances where "Daddy-Longs-Legs" attempts to interfere with Judy's plans when she shows that she's growing independent of his influence. He tries to dissuade her from accepting a scholarship from the college (describing it as "accepting favors from strangers", to which she points out that the description better fits his generosity to her), and interferes with her plans to go on holidays with friends she's made at college. The revelation at the end casts an additional light on the latter: the holidays he objected to were specifically the ones where she'd be hanging out with young men who weren't Jervis.
  • Happily Ever After: The last letter more or less sets this up for our heroine; the sequel confirms Judy's Happily Ever After status.
  • Lit Fic: Everything in the story is completely realistic for its time period.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: By the end of the original novel, Judy has published her first real story.
  • Mr. Smith: Judy is instructed to address her letters to "Mr. John Smith". She dislikes such a bland pseudonym, so comes up with the nickname "Daddy-Long-Legs" based on her sole visual impression of him being a glimpse of his shadow, which appeared tall and spindly like a daddy-long-legs spider. His real name is eventually revealed to be Jervis Pendleton.
  • Mundane Luxury: Judy gets hit with this when she first goes to college from the orphanage, including getting new clothes instead of getting clothes from the poor box (she considers the six outfits she got a grand wardrobe), her own bedroom, getting to eat real ice cream twice a week, and being able to leave campus whenever she wants.
  • Nouveau Riche: Sallie's father made all his money in the blue jeans business, but it's a downplayed example, since they are more down-to-earth and friendly than Julia's family.
  • Old Money: On both sides of Julia's family.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Judy hates being called Jerusha, which as noted above was taken from a tombstone, and goes by Judy.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The John Grier Home is a borderline example. The kids did have what they needed to live somewhat comfortably and weren't directly abused, but they still were emotionally, and at least in Judy's case, educationally neglected, as well as Judy noting how the home does its best to stamp out any individuality. Judy doesn't hide how much she hates it in her letters, but does show some fondness for it, mostly in her later letters.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Judy's is really only touched upon in bits in her letters, although the first chapter does make it clear that she's unhappy at the orphanage and particularly under the care of the unpleasant matron.
  • Pre-Approved Sermon: In one of her letters, Judy talks about how all the guest preachers essentially tell the female student body not to let their education get in the way of their "womanly" natures, implying that these sermons intentional on the school's end.
  • Plucky Girl: Judy is determined to rise above her humble beginnings and become a real writer.
  • Possession Sue: In-Universe example; at one point after reading Hamlet, Judy writes about how she imagines herself as Ophelia, except she's a "sensible" Ophelia who coddles Hamlet until he's cured of his melancholy and they rule Denmark together happily and well after the king and queen die in an accident at sea.
  • Rewatch Bonus: If you haven't figured out before the end that 'Daddy' is actually Jervis, reading the book again means you can spot all the points where he's clearly intensely jealous of Jimmie McBride and working to keep Judy away from him.
  • Rich Bitch: Julia, although she warms up enough that Judy grows to like her better.
  • Romantic False Lead: Jimmie McBride, whom Judy likes, but only as a friend. Daddy and Jervis don't realize that it's strictly platonic.
  • Scholarship Student: Judy comes from a deprived background and is only able to attend college because her way is being paid by her anonymous benefactor (and then later by a scholarship the college awards her for academic merit). She initially feels very keenly the gap between her and the other students, both in financial status and in shared life experiences and cultural touchstones that she's missed out on.
  • Sick Episode: After Christmas break of her freshman year, Judy has what appears to be the mumps, judging by a drawing she includes in one of her letters to Daddy, and is touched when he sends her sweetheart roses as a get-well present. In another letter, she briefly mentioned having swollen tonsils but not to the point where she needed them removed.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Averted, especially for the time period. Judy does fall in love, but her main ambition is to fulfill what she sees as her obligation to her beloved benefactor and become a real writer. This is so much her ambition that when the man she loves proposes, she turns him down! Then she finds out that they're the same person, so it all works out.
  • Spurned into Suicide: Almost. After Judy rejects his marriage proposal, Jervis — thinking that she doesn't love him — goes hunting in Canada and nearly dies as a result. He wasn't deliberately trying to kill himself, but he's so depressed that he has a very difficult time recovering.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Jervis, literally to Julia but also to her friends. He's extremely wealthy and frequently sends her, Judy, and Sallie various gifts, such as flowers when they graduate, tickets to the theater, and a box of fancy chocolates for each of them just because. Unbeknownst to Judy, he's also the chief trustee of the John Grier Home and the one who makes it possible for her to attend college.
  • Unseen Pen Pal: When orphaned Jerusha "Judy" Abbott is given the chance to go to college through a rich, mysterious benefactor, she is instructed to write him letters of her progress, which he will not reply to, only communicating to her through a representative. Having only seen a shadow of him, and thinking he must be much older, she calls him "Daddy Long Legs". While she gets very personal in these letters out of loneliness, this becomes an issue since she is beholden to him if she is to finish her education. In reality, "Daddy", a.k.a. Jervis Pendleton, is much closer in age to her, and secretly meets her through his niece, who attends the same college. While Judy does get upset at Daddy Long Legs' manipulations near the end, she ends up forgiving Jervis and marrying him once he tells her the truth because of her fondness for both sides of him. Adaptations tend to show more of his side of the story in an attempt to even things out.
  • Uptown Girl: Orphan Judy falls in love with Jervis Pendleton, a relative of her rich snobby college roommate. One of the obstacles to their relationship is that she's self-conscious about her lower social status, which (she thinks) he's not aware of the full extent of.
  • Wealthy Philanthropist: Jervis Pendleton, to the disapproval of his Old Money family, "throws away his money" on charitable projects "instead of spending it on such sensible things as yachts and automobiles and polo ponies" (as Judy summarizes their attitude in one of her letters). Among other things, he's a trustee of the orphanage where Judy grew up and her own anonymous benefactor.
  • White Sheep: Julia's remarks about her uncle Jervis indicate that he is this to the rest of the Pendletons, as he's far less snobbish and much more genial.

Adaptations add examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • In the 1979 Tatsunoko Production adaptation, Julia is named Susan and Jimmie is named Tommy.
    • Sort of in the musical. While Jerusha is still her name, she never goes by her nickname Judy.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: In the musical, Jervis is much more shy and withdrawn, compared to his more extroverted and confident personality in the book. This is why he never tells Jerusha his identity as her benefactor.
  • Animated Adaptation:
    • In 1990, as a part of the World Masterpiece Theater, with Mitsuko Horie as Judy.
    • There is also an earlier anime adaptation of the story, a TV special made in 1979 by Tatsunoko Production. Unlike the 1990 series, the Tatsunoko version was dubbed into English and released in the United States on both Betamax and VHS.
  • Book Dumb: This is actually the focus of one of the songs from the musical, fittingly called "Things I Didn't Know".
  • Decomposite Character: In the very loose adaptation Curly Top with Shirley Temple, there are two sisters, little Elizabeth (played by Temple herself) and grown-up Mary, in Judy's place. It helps avoid the potential squick of Judy ending up with her sort-of father-figure, as Edward (Jervis's counterpart) has the father-daughter relationship with Elizabeth and the romance with Mary.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • Averted in the 1919 adaptation, where Judy is incredibly angry and actually shouts "Never speak to me again!", when Jervis gives her a "Shut Up" Kiss.
    • Also averted in the musical, where she takes him to task and behaves very coolly... for about two minutes, then she forgives him. It helps that he's very abject in his apologies.
  • First-Episode Twist: In the musical only. It's not revealed until the very end of the novel that Jervis is Daddy-Long-Legs, and Jerusha's benefactor; in the musical, however, the audience finds this out right away, after Jervis himself appears on stage to tell them so in the second number.
  • Spelling for Emphasis: In the film adaptation with Mary Pickford, the children in the orphanage, tired of being constantly fed prunes, shout: "P-R-U-N-E spells prune!".

The sequel, "My Dear Enemy", has the following tropes.

  • The Alcoholic: Tommy. It almost kills him, and it's only Dr McRae's Papa Wolf efforts that save him. Sallie helps him out, and once they're done, they hug each other out of distress, which almost leads both of them to a Love Epiphany.
  • Babies Ever After: It's noted that Judy and Jervis are the parents of a little girl, whom Sallie calls "Judy Junior."
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Sadie Kate, although in spite of her antics she's Sallie's favorite kid. Punch is more of a direct example, though he does reform.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Punch's father was Italian and his mother was Irish.
  • Captain Ersatz: The doctor's situation with his wife makes him appear to be a more humane version of Rochester from Jane Eyre.
  • Canine Companion/Non-Human Sidekick: Sallie's beloved Chow-Chow, Singapore.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sterry, the original farmer at the John Grier Home, is let go from his position after arguing with Sallie. Later he returns and tries to get his job back, to no avail. He breaks into one of the buildings to sleep at night, and accidentally leaves a candle burning... the result being that the entire orphanage burns down.
  • Contrasting Sequel Protagonist: Judy, raised in an orphanage and trying to build her own life vs. Sallie, raised in a loving (verging on My Beloved Smother loving) family, trying to reform the orphanage.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A girl named Hattie is adopted by a rich family... and then unadopted and sent back to the orphanage under accusations of thievery. Her sin? She took a silver Communion cup from a church and kept it for herself, naively thinking it was a toy. Sallie tells this to Judy in a letter and remarks on how unfair it is for a little girl.
  • Determinator: Dr. MacRae is just as stubborn as Plucky Girl Sallie is, which works very well when they're in agreement but just as often leads to them arguing.
  • Epistolary Novel: The sequel cranks this up to eleven by being completely epistolary, without the narrative opening chapter of the original, and by being almost three times as long. It's made up of Sallie's letters to Judy, to the 'Enemy', and to Gordon Hallock, her sweetheart in Washington, D.C.
  • Executive Meddling: Sallie suffers this in-universe from one of the John Grier Home trustees, "Hon. Cy," as she calls him. She learns to distract him by getting his opinion on things that don't matter, and he does prove very useful to her in his own way.
  • Fiery Redhead: It's more apparent in this story that Sallie qualifies; being of Irish heritage is a major contributing factor.
  • Foreshadowing: One of the first and biggest changes Sallie makes when she takes over as orphanage director is to determine the fire exits and conduct fire drills. Guess what happens near the end of the book?
  • Funetik Aksent: A fairly justified example. Sallie is of Irish descent, and the doctor is of Scottish, so she tells Judy that sometimes they speak to each other in their ancestral accents. She then writes a few sentences out phonetically so Judy (and the reader) can see what she means.
  • Gilligan Cut: Sallie’s first letter has her refusing the position of orphanage superintendent. In the next letter, she immediately begins by describing her arrival at the orphanage.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Gordon is insanely jealous of the doctor. Not without reason, as it turns out.
  • Happily Adopted: A number of the orphans, especially after the fire. Of special note are Allegra and her brothers, who are taken in by the rich man who at first only wanted to adopt Allegra and fought heatedly with Sallie since she didn't want to tear the siblings apart; after Allegra almost dies in the fire, he changes his mind and decides to take all three.
  • Happily Ever After: As in the first book, the final letter indicates that this will be Sallie's fate.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Baby Allegra, who charms everyone — even crotchety, un-charmable Dr. MacRae.
  • Hollywood Fire: The orphanage goes up in smoke, but thanks to their previously-instituted policy of fire drills, all the kids make it out safely. However, Dr. McRae is severely injured while trying to save Allegra.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Similarly to the first book, this time with Sallie and the doctor; his actions at some points are a complete mystery to her, because she doesn't know he's trying to deny his love for her.
  • Lit Fic: In the same vein as its predecessor.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Sallie's relationship with Gordon. It's actually one of their main points of contention with each other, because he wants her to give up the orphanage and move to Washington, D.C., and she wants to stay where she is.
  • Mysterious Past: Dr. MacRae won't talk about his, but eventually Sallie learns from his housekeeper that he has a wife and daughter. The wife is institutionalized for mental problems; the doctor knew she was unstable but believed he'd be able to help her, and had to place her in the institute when not even all his care was enough. The daughter, who shows tendencies of the same kind, lives with her grandmother and a devoted nurse.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Heavily downplayed, as Miss Snaith is a kind woman who does care for children, she just has some... out-of-date ideas about how to do it. In particular, she doesn’t believe in the importance of fresh air and always closes the windows in her charges’ rooms. It ends up saving little Allegra’s life. The fire starts three feet away from her, but due to the window being closed, it spreads in the opposite direction.
  • The Nicknamer: Sallie is this for Dr. MacRae, calling him not only "Dear Enemy," but also "Sandy" (a reference to his hair color) and, at least once, "Robin lad." A few others crop up irregularly too.
  • Orphanage of Love: Sallie is working to transform the John Grier Home into this.
  • Plucky Girl: Sallie, once she settles into her position as orphanage superintendent.
  • Poverty Food: Prior to Sallie taking control of the John Grier home, the orphans' main diet consisted of potatoes and oatmeal. She quickly changes this.
  • Rescue Romance: Done with a twist. Sallie explains, in the final letter of the book, that what made her realize she was in love with the doctor was when he risked his life to save Allegra from the fire, and they didn't know if he would survive.
    • She almost had a similar epiphany (and even toys with the idea) when the doctor saves Tommy from dying of alcoholic poisoning.
  • Rose-Tinted Narrative: How Judy convinces Sallie to come work for the John Grier Home... Well, obviously some details were obviously remembered differently.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Sallie breaks off her engagement to Gordon rather than give up the John Grier Home and the Doctor... after she not only learns about his tragic past, but sees how much he loves the children of the orphanage.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Punch is a child version.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Sallie and the doctor, eventually.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Of a sort. Dr. MacRae has been in love with Sallie for months, but will not allow himself to show it because of his previous tie to his wife. Her death sets him free of that obligation, but by that point, Sallie is set to marry Gordon Hallock. Once she breaks off the engagement, however... (To be fair to Sallie, he didn't tell her right off the bat. His housekeeper could have done so, but she didn't do it either.)
  • Tsundere : Sallie, to Gordon and to Robin.
  • Unexpected Kindness: Five-year-old Punch purposefully breaks a vase right under the eyes of Sallie, the orphanage superintendent, and laughs about it, obviously provoking her into punishing him. However, Sallie realises he probably has never seen real kindness before and decides to pretend he has broken the vase by accident. She kisses him and tells him it's all right and she isn't angry, and Punch is stunned into silence.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Punch is noted to have gorgeous eyes, apparently the prettiest ones Sallie has ever seen.

Alternative Title(s): Daddy Long Legs