Have you ever seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? If not, go do it. Really. Right now. It’s not perfectly moral but it is adorable. And, well, it has books and book shops at the center of the plot, and that just makes it charming. In this delightful little movie we are treated to a modern day epistolary romance.
A few years ago, I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and was smitten with the epistolary format for storytelling. Like “You’ve Got Mail,” the friendships and romance that develop over the exchange of letters is compelling and interesting. After that book, I revisited another favorite letter-formed story – a true story novel and movie – 84 Charing Cross Road. After that, I needed another. Something more. The format had become an absolute favorite.
Thank goodness that in the back of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, there were a few recommendations for other stories in similar formats, including Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. Interestingly, this story is not a collection of letters between several people, but rather it is a body of letters written from one character to another (without response) framed with a little introductory text. It is a very interesting format that seems all wrong but manages to work beautifully.
In this charming little romance, Miss Jerusha Abbot is a foundling at the John Grier Home for Orphans. She is, of course, particularly bright, creative, and romantic. In fact, Jerusha is a hybrid of Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) and Juliet Ashton (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie). Her endearing spunk and vivid imagination catch the interest of a benevolent asylum trustee. Mr. John Smith (not his real name) insists on being anonymous, but he sponsors her college education and living allowance. The scholarship requires only that she send a monthly letter of progress and activity to her patron. She should expect no reply, and no relationship.
Webster is a genius in the way that she develops Judy (née Jerusha). Judy simply cannot write to Mr. Smith without some form of endearment and attachment. She dubs him “Daddy Long Legs,” and adopts him into her affections. Four years of college letters recount all kinds of interesting antics, moods, and adventures. We also learn that Mr. Smith’s affection for Judy is clearly engaged as he sends generous Christmas presents, extras when he thinks that she needs them, and a number of other sweet tokens. Or rather, his secretary sends the gifts and the notes.
Mr. Smith also makes clear demands about Judy’s summer activities and how she fills some of her free time. By the end of the story we get the sense that he even has a preference for one suitor over another, as he seems to steer Judy’s free time away from one love interest and towards the other gentleman caller.
Puffin has this story in their young Puffin Classics series. It is accessible and suitable to readers of the Railway Children, What Katy Did, Anne of Green Gable, Little Women, and An Old Fashioned Girl. It is pretty wholesome coming of age fare and packed with little nuggets of wisdom.
A thoroughly enjoyable, light, and entertaining read; I recommend this for readers young and old. It would make a wonderful read aloud for a family transitioning between harder books, an accessible independent chapter book, and a nice retreat for tired mamas.
The ending is predictable, but the route that they take to get there is creative and enjoyable.
Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron starred in a dance movie of the same name (don’t pay $30 for it – I paid $6). The film takes huge liberties with the story and, more or less, fundamentally changes it in doing so. Aside from a weird dance sequence towards the end that seemed to be in bad taste and totally irrelevant, it isn’t an unpleasant film. It is more morally ambiguous, however. While there is nothing that happens, the set up is a bit scandalous in spots. The effort to update the historical setting of the story probably contributed to the moral complexity. A film to be previewed before showing to young children, but not unsafe for older children. And compared to modern films, wholesome indeed.
There is an Audible version here.