Review: Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs - Jean Webster

Book: Daddy Long Legs

Author: Jean Webster

Gutenberg: Daddy Long Legs (free ebook)

Internet Archive/Open Library ebook: Daddy Long Legs (free ebook. The version I read and recommend, especially because the introduction is a short biography of Webster. Also this version includes "Judy's artwork" in many of the letters - the character likes to illustrate various things she's writing about.)

 

The usual roundabout story about how I picked this book: I was reading Dear Author's Daily Deal post about Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay and the in the comments someone mentioned that it was a direct lift of the Daddy Long Legs plot, with some Austenish aspects and a Christian inspirational spin to it. (I'll just note that this annoys me in all sorts of ways and not go into a full rant. I'm pretty sure you can imagine the content of that anyway. And I'm not bothering to link to the book out of that irritation.)

 

I only knew the story thanks to the films - specifically the 1955 version with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, though I think I've seen bits of the 1935 one with Shirley Temple. I thought the plot was extremely eyeroll-worthy - not the part about the orphan, Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, getting sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, but who the benefactor turned out to be. Spoiler:

it's the guy she falls in love with. You can see how this is problematic - especially the question of when he fell in love with her, before sending her to college or during or what. Not to mention that the love interest is called Daddy - ugh. Not funny in this context.

(show spoiler)

 

I did not like that plot at all, and I thought the nickname was also ridiculous, especially for a girl of college age, even if it was an old movie. Except I didn't have any idea that the original novel was written in 1912, and in that era I can buy that a girl going off to college can still be very much a child, and especially this particular girl, Judy. Oh and it's an epistolary novel, told in letters from Judy, to the mysterious benefactor who she calls Daddy Long Legs rather than use the boring pseudonym John Smith. I am not wild about epistolary novels - in the past I've found those can get really dull.

 

The reason I read the book, in spite of all that I just mentioned, has everything to do with the wikipedia biography of the author, Jean Webster:

 

In 1897, Webster entered Vassar College as a member of the class of 1901. Majoring in English and economics, she took a course in welfare and penal reform and became interested in social issues. As part of her course she visited institutions for "delinquent and destitute children". She became involved in the College Settlement House that served poorer communities in New York, an interest she would maintain throughout her life. Her experiences at Vassar provided material for her books When Patty Went to College and Daddy-Long-Legs.

...Webster and [college friend] Crapsey supported the socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs during the 1900 presidential election, although as women they were not allowed to vote.

...An increasing intimacy and a secret engagement developed between Webster and Ethelyn McKinney [friend she met traveling Europe]'s brother, Glenn Ford McKinney. A lawyer, he had struggled to live up to the expectations of his wealthy and successful father. Mirroring a subplot of Dear Enemy, he had an unhappy marriage to an unstable woman, Annette Reynaud, who was frequently hospitalized for manic-depressive episodes.

...The McKinneys separated in 1909, but in an era when divorce was uncommon and difficult to obtain, were not divorced until 1915. After his separation, McKinney continued to struggle with alcoholism, but had his addiction under control in the summer of 1912, when he traveled with Webster, Ethelyn McKinney and Lena Weinstein to Ireland.

 

[McKinney and Webster quietly marry in 1915.]

 

...Webster became pregnant and according to family tradition, was warned that her pregnancy might be dangerous. She suffered severely from morning sickness, but by February 1916 was feeling better and was able to return to her many activities: social events, prison visits, and meetings about orphanage reform and women's suffrage.

...Jean Webster entered the Sloan Hospital for Women, New York on the afternoon of June 10, 1916. Glenn McKinney, recalled from his twenty-fifth reunion at Princeton University, arrived ninety minutes before Webster gave birth at 10:30 p.m to a six-and-a-quarter-pound daughter. All was well initially, but Jean Webster became ill and died of childbirth fever at 7:30 am on June 11, 1916. Her daughter was named Jean (Little Jean) in her honor.

 

She was 39 years old when she died. I wish she'd lived long enough to write an autobiography. I really want to read a Jean Webster biography, specifically about her studies and her support of suffrage and social work. But there doesn't seem to be a book - not in print anyway. (I just know there are dissertations on her out there though, that should be rewritten as books.)  But if I can't read about her life, I can at least read her work.

 

Daddy Long Legs was not the book I expected - oh it had irritating moments, and set ups that I was familiar with from that age of literature targeting what they now call YA. But the heroine I expected  - and expected not to like - wasn't the one I ended up reading. Judy has the usual annoying perkiness ("pluck" was a thing then), but she also has been raised in a charity orphanage, and has had to work there while attending high school. So when she's given the chance to go to college she's set into an entirely different world. She has no pop cultural references for books or entertainment (she didn't have time to read for fun). She constantly marvels about/ponders over how various families and people act - since she's always an outsider observing a world she's not been part of. She's both curious and delighted to learn not just in her classes, but about all aspects of society.

 

This could have become an extremely maudlin story (and it is, somewhat) - but that's not what Webster does with it, or tries to do. The key to making Judy's letters work is that she's sending them to someone she's told is never going to write back - and so what you end up with is more like the diary of someone who's enjoying the chance to learn, and yet still having struggles to belong, and find a sense of home. The saddest parts are the pleas to have answers to her letters, and have some kind of family relationship with Daddy. But Daddy sends most of his responses through a secretary. Though there are thoughtful gifts at times when she's sad or ill or doesn't expect them - it's clear that she really wants a family relationship with someone, and some human, emotional response in return for her emotional letters.

Which again makes it all the more irritating that Daddy is her eventual love interest. Though actually he's interested in her - she is unaware of him as anything other than a confidant and guardian figure. It's a completely uneven relationship, and unfair. End rant. For the moment.

(show spoiler)

 

She's also a bookish heroine, and I always have a soft spot for that.

 

Now the down side. Well, there is that perkiness. This is softened by Judy's sense of humor, and also that she's often critical of others and certain beliefs - she's not blindly accepting of everyone, and has strong beliefs of her own. A lot of how much Judy's attitude may bother you will depend on how many books from this era you've read (that is, if you've become acquainted with a perky heroine) and how easily you can get used to it. Even though Judy is in her 20s by midpoint of the book (I was like, wait, she's that old?!) she comes off as much, much younger. Which I can chalk up to "it was that era" because it seems typical of what average young adults were doing in other books and media. Or at least women - because remember, as a girl you didn't get to experience much of the world unless you were poor enough to have to go off to work (another sort of limitation of your world).

 

I feel somewhat dorky adding spoilers when the book's 102 years old, but oh well, someone out there may still want to read it that hasn't heard the plot.

 

I still really hate that she ends up in love with the man who's been paying her way and at the same time trying to manipulate her and run her life. For example, in her sophomore year "Daddy" doesn't want her to spend a vacation where she might meet up with boys, one in particular (her roommate's brother). It becomes clear that some of his commands have everything to do with him not wanting to share Judy. And of course it's because he doesn't want her seeing other men because he's in love with her. And of course he doesn't tell her that he's someone she already knows until the end, so he can continue to get all of her letters telling him everything she's thinking and feeling. Judy never realizes who Daddy is until the end, even though the reader can catch on much earlier. (Of course the movies spoiled it for me, so I can't really know how quickly everyone else would get that.) All of that makes me completely dislike the hero, and in my mind he's not redeemed at the end - he's still a selfish jerk who's first thought is not about what's good for Judy. In particular his decision not to tell Judy who Daddy is until their in person meeting at the end. (But then that's also all about dramatic effect - this was a play as well. So I do get that reasoning. Still dislike the character though.)

 

Oh and if you were wondering - there's a 14 year age difference between "Daddy" and Judy. But when his character shows up in the story he seems much younger than 37 - or perhaps its an immaturity thing.

(show spoiler)

 

[Aside: Not that it excuses him, but men in almost all the books of this time (fiction) are none of them too pleasant in treatment of women. Condescending attitudes towards women are all over the place, and taken to be the norm. Restraining self from nattering on about that.]

 

Judy is redeemed in my eyes by the fact that she refuses to follow Daddy's orders on multiple occasions. By the time she starts making these refusals, I was totally on board with the story, and wanting her to say no to him. (I'm pretty sure Webster wants the reader to feel this.) Part of Judy's education has been finding a new sense of what she's capable of, and feeling secure in making her own decisions in life. She doesn't manage to do so until she's a Junior, which makes sense - you wouldn't expect this to be a quick lesson. (Some of us take decades to learn this.)

 

The idea that this is an "anti-feminist fairy tale" (wikipedia) seems an odd claim to make (and I haven't read the full article linked to that, just the abstract). Yes, Judy marries at the end, but she's had multiple instances of not doing what a man placed in authority over her tells her to do - not to mention being extremely verbal (well, in her letters) as to her reasons and feelings about his orders. Also it was 1912 - the fact that Judy makes statements about wanting to vote and think for herself was radical enough. Not to mention saying more than once that she's a socialist. I don't believe that a heroine can't marry because somehow that's not a feminist ending - but what would make things clear would be to know whether she continues to make her own decisions after she's married. Since I haven't read the sequel I can only say that the character I've read doesn't seem like someone who'd go back to blindly following orders - she's made it clear that that's very much not to her taste. And while Judy mentions voting rights and male vs female education (once for each) - it seems natural that there shouldn't be more remarks because it's not a book solely about either of those things. I'm possibly giving it too fair a shake - but I have read some fairly preachy suffrage material, and that kind of story doesn't quite fit into what Webster's trying to do here. (Though what this is is a kind of hybrid: coming of age/love of education/foundling story/life adventure/vague romance story?!) 

 

Two stars solely for the male character and the no-seriously-ugh feeling of the love-interest plot. Otherwise I'd have loved it for a book from this time period, especially the parts about reading and love of learning.

 

Enough of my interpretation - let me pass along some quotes. You'll get a better idea of the book that way. Probably too many, but hey I can cut and paste and easily get carried away. Now that I reread these it strikes me that some (I've left out some of them) are very dull if you haven't been to a college where you would write (or in my case, phone) home and say roughly the same things.

 

1% in, from Webster's biography in the introduction (and a story I wish we had more information about!):

"While a student, she as not only a correspondent for Poughkeepsie newspapers but also a contributor of stories to the Vassar Miscellany. ...Once while writing for the newspaper, her imagination quite ran away with her, and she converted some fanciful information into a practical joke which nearly cost her the job."

 

6% in, where the nickname comes from:

"The long lower hall had not been lighted, and as she came downstairs, a last Trustee stood, on the point of departure, in the open door that led to the porte-cochere. Jerusha caught only a fleeting impression of the man—and the impression consisted entirely of tallness. He was waving his arm towards an automobile waiting in the curved drive. As it sprang into motion and approached, head on for an instant, the glaring headlights threw his shadow sharply against the wall inside. The shadow pictured grotesquely elongated legs and arms that ran along the floor and up the wall of the corridor. It looked, for all the world, like a huge, wavering daddy-long-legs.

Jerusha's anxious frown gave place to quick laughter. She was by nature a sunny soul, and had always snatched the tiniest excuse to be amused. If one could derive any sort of entertainment out of the oppressive fact of a Trustee, it was something unexpected to the good."

 

9% in, the selfish tone is set about the letter writing (though it matters that the character making this speech is unpleasant herself):

"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. That is—you are not to thank him for the money; he doesn't care to have that mentioned, but you are to write a letter telling of the progress in your studies and the details of your daily life. Just such a letter as you would write to your parents if they were living.

'These letters will be addressed to Mr. John Smith and will be sent in care of the secretary. The gentleman's name is not John Smith, but he prefers to remain unknown. To you he will never be anything but John Smith. His reason in requiring the letters is that he thinks nothing so fosters facility in literary expression as letter-writing. Since you have no family with whom to correspond, he desires you to write in this way; also, he wishes to keep track of your progress. He will never answer your letters, nor in the slightest particular take any notice of them. He detests letter-writing and does not wish you to become a burden. If any point should ever arise where an answer would seem to be imperative—such as in the event of your being expelled, which I trust will not occur—you may correspond with Mr. Griggs, his secretary. These monthly letters are absolutely obligatory on your part; they are the only payment that Mr. Smith requires, so you must be as punctilious in sending them as though it were a bill that you were paying."

It only now occurs to me to wonder whether this John Smith had the same requirements for the boys that he'd previously sent to school. If not that makes the spoiler info I posted earlier even more gross.

 

14% in, an early letter:

"You know, Daddy, it isn't the work that is going to be hard in college. It's the play. Half the time I don't know what the girls are talking about; their jokes seem to relate to a past that every one but me has shared. I'm a foreigner in the world and I don't understand the language. It's a miserable feeling. I've had it all my life. At the high school the girls would stand in groups and just look at me. I was queer and different and everybody knew it. I could FEEL 'John Grier Home' written on my face. And then a few charitable ones would make a point of coming up and saying something polite. I HATED EVERY ONE OF THEM—the charitable ones most of all.

Nobody here knows that I was brought up in an asylum. I told Sallie McBride that my mother and father were dead, and that a kind old gentleman was sending me to college which is entirely true so far as it goes. I don't want you to think I am a coward, but I do want to be like the other girls, and that Dreadful Home looming over my childhood is the one great big difference. If I can turn my back on that and shut out the remembrance, I think, I might be just as desirable as any other girl. I don't believe there's any real, underneath difference, do you?"

 

18% in, this sums up so much about what she's missed (but then, that's me the book-lover thinking that):

"I have a new unbreakable rule: never, never to study at night no matter how many written reviews are coming in the morning. Instead, I read just plain books—I have to, you know, because there are eighteen blank years behind me. You wouldn't believe, Daddy, what an abyss of ignorance my mind is; I am just realizing the depths myself. The things that most girls with a properly assorted family and a home and friends and a library know by absorption, I have never heard of. For example:

I never read Mother Goose or David Copperfield or Ivanhoe or Cinderella or Blue Beard or Robinson Crusoe or Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland or a word of Rudyard Kipling. I didn't know that Henry the Eighth was married more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn't know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth. I didn't know that R. L. S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady. I had never seen a picture of the 'Mona Lisa' and (it's true but you won't believe it) I had never heard of Sherlock Holmes.

Now, I know all of these things and a lot of others besides, but you can see how much I need to catch up. And oh, but it's fun! I look forward all day to evening, and then I put an 'engaged' on the door and get into my nice red bath robe and furry slippers and pile all the cushions behind me on the couch, and light the brass student lamp at my elbow, and read and read and read one book isn't enough. I have four going at once. Just now, they're Tennyson's poems and Vanity Fair and Kipling's Plain Tales and—don't laugh—Little Women. I find that I am the only girl in college who wasn't brought up on Little Women. I haven't told anybody though (that WOULD stamp me as queer). I just quietly went and bought it with $1.12 of my last month's allowance; and the next time somebody mentions pickled limes, I'll know what she is talking about!"

 

32% in:

This morning (it's Monday now) three boxes of chocolates came by express for Julia and Sallie and me. What do you think of that? To be getting candy from a man!

I begin to feel like a girl instead of a foundling.

I wish you'd come and have tea some day and let me see if I like you.
But wouldn't it be dreadful if I didn't? However, I know I should.

 

38% in:

Behold me—a Sophomore! I came up last Friday, sorry to leave Lock Willow, but glad to see the campus again. It is a pleasant sensation to come back to something familiar. I am beginning to feel at home in college, and in command of the situation; I am beginning, in fact, to feel at home in the world—as though I really belonged to it and had not just crept in on sufferance.

I don't suppose you understand in the least what I am trying to say. A person important enough to be a Trustee can't appreciate the feelings of a person unimportant enough to be a foundling.

 

43% in, links to author at end of quotes:

We're reading Marie Bashkirtseff's journal. Isn't it amazing? Listen to this: 'Last night I was seized by a fit of despair that found utterance in moans, and that finally drove me to throw the dining-room clock into the sea.'

It makes me almost hope I'm not a genius; they must be very wearing to have about—and awfully destructive to the furniture.

 

44% in, a horrible story just tossed in with all the rest of a letter, which made it even more shocking (there's no other anecdote she tells that's remotely like this):

"Do you know about that one scandalous blot in my career the time I ran away from the asylum because they punished me for stealing cookies? It's down in the books free for any Trustee to read. But really, Daddy, what could you expect? When you put a hungry little nine-year girl in the pantry scouring knives, with the cookie jar at her elbow, and go off and leave her alone; and then suddenly pop in again, wouldn't you expect to find her a bit crumby? And then when you jerk her by the elbow and box her ears, and make her leave the table when the pudding comes, and tell all the other children that it's because she's a thief, wouldn't you expect her to run away?

I only ran four miles. They caught me and brought me back; and every day for a week I was tied, like a naughty puppy, to a stake in the back yard while the other children were out at recess.

Oh, dear! There's the chapel bell, and after chapel I have a committee meeting."

 

46% in, I'd never heard about this definition of a paper chase:

"We had a paper chase last Saturday over five miles of squashy 'cross country. The fox (composed of three girls and a bushel or so of confetti) started half an hour before the twenty-seven hunters. I was one of the twenty-seven; eight dropped by the wayside; we ended nineteen. The trail led over a hill, through a cornfield, and into a swamp where we had to leap lightly from hummock to hummock. of course half of us went in ankle deep. We kept losing the trail, and we wasted twenty-five minutes over that swamp. Then up a hill through some woods and in at a barn window! The barn doors were all locked and the window was up high and pretty small. I don't call that fair, do you?"

 

51% in, after a letter refusing a check for $50 after she'd described a roommate hat shopping at an expensive store, in her previous letter she says she didn't intend the description to sound as though she was begging:

"I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry I was so impolite about your cheque. I know you meant it kindly, and I think you're an old dear to take so much trouble for such a silly thing as a hat. I ought to have returned it very much more graciously.

But in any case, I had to return it. It's different with me than with other girls. They can take things naturally from people. They have fathers and brothers and aunts and uncles; but I can't be on any such relations with any one. I like to pretend that you belong to me, just to play with the idea, but of course I know you don't. I'm alone, really—with my back to the wall fighting the world—and I get sort of gaspy when I think about it. I put it out of my mind, and keep on pretending; but don't you see, Daddy? I can't accept any more money than I have to, because some day I shall be wanting to pay it back, and even as great an author as I intend to be won't be able to face a PERFECTLY TREMENDOUS debt.

I'd love pretty hats and things, but I mustn't mortgage the future to pay for them."

 

52% in, I had all this time wondered if she'd read/discuss this book:

"I sat up half of last night reading Jane Eyre. Are you old enough, Daddy, to remember sixty years ago? And, if so, did people talk that way?

The haughty Lady Blanche says to the footman, 'Stop your chattering, knave, and do my bidding.' Mr. Rochester talks about the metal welkin when he means the sky; and as for the mad woman who laughs like a hyena and sets fire to bed curtains and tears up wedding veils and BITES—it's melodrama of the purest, but just the same, you read and read and read. I can't see how any girl could have written such a book, especially any girl who was brought up in a churchyard. There's something about those Brontes that fascinates me. Their books, their lives, their spirit. Where did they get it? When I was reading about little Jane's troubles in the charity school, I got so angry that I had to go out and take a walk. I understood exactly how she felt....

Don't be outraged, Daddy. I am not intimating that the John Grier Home was like the Lowood Institute. We had plenty to eat and plenty to wear, sufficient water to wash in, and a furnace in the cellar. But there was one deadly likeness. Our lives were absolutely monotonous and uneventful. Nothing nice ever happened, except ice-cream on Sundays, and even that was regular. In all the eighteen years I was there I only had one adventure—when the woodshed burned. We had to get up in the night and dress so as to be ready in case the house should catch. But it didn't catch and we went back to bed.

...You know, Daddy, I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people's places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding. It ought to be cultivated in children. But the John Grier Home instantly stamped out the slightest flicker that appeared. Duty was the one quality that was encouraged. I don't think children ought to know the meaning of the word; it's odious, detestable. They ought to do everything from love.

Wait until you see the orphan asylum that I am going to be the head of! It's my favourite play at night before I go to sleep. I plan it out to the littlest detail—the meals and clothes and study and amusements and punishments; for even my superior orphans are sometimes bad.

But anyway, they are going to be happy. I think that every one, no matter how many troubles he may have when he grows up, ought to have a happy childhood to look back upon. And if I ever have any children of my own, no matter how unhappy I may be, I am not going to let them have any cares until they grow up."

 

57% in, after Daddy forbids her to spend the summer with the family of her roommate, said family having a slightly older brother at Princeton who will also be there for the summer:

"It's the impersonality of your commands that hurts my feelings. It seems as though, if you felt the tiniest little bit for me the way I feel for you, you'd sometimes send me a message that you'd written with your own hand, instead of those beastly typewritten secretary's notes. If there were the slightest hint that you cared, I'd do anything on earth to please you.

I know that I was to write nice, long, detailed letters without ever expecting any answer. You're living up to your side of the bargain—I'm being educated—and I suppose you're thinking I'm not living up to mine!

But, Daddy, it is a hard bargain. It is, really. I'm so awfully lonely. You are the only person I have to care for, and you are so shadowy. You're just an imaginary man that I've made up—and probably the real YOU isn't a bit like my imaginary YOU. But you did once, when I was ill in the infirmary, send me a message, and now, when I am feeling awfully forgotten, I get out your card and read it over.

I don't think I am telling you at all what I started to say, which was this:

Although my feelings are still hurt, for it is very humiliating to be picked up and moved about by an arbitrary, peremptory, unreasonable, omnipotent, invisible Providence, still, when a man has been as kind and generous and thoughtful as you have heretofore been towards me, I suppose he has a right to be an arbitrary, peremptory, unreasonable, invisible Providence if he chooses, and so—I'll forgive you and be cheerful again. But I still don't enjoy getting Sallie's letters about the good times they are having in camp!"

And this is the beginning of where I decide I'm not going to forgive the selfish Daddy character. Because in theory he's been reading all her letters, so he knows how much this would mean to her.

 

68% Judy's schoolwork wins her a scholarship, Daddy wants her to refuse it so he can continue to pay for all of her education (Yes, really. I was all WTF too. Judy also suggests he help someone else through school with the money, no reply on that):

"Will you kindly convey to me a comprehensible reason why I should not accept that scholarship? I don't understand your objection in the least. But anyway, it won't do the slightest good for you to object, for I've already accepted it and I am not going to change! That sounds a little impertinent, but I don't mean it so.

I suppose you feel that when you set out to educate me, you'd like to finish the work, and put a neat period, in the shape of a diploma, at the end.

But look at it just a second from my point of view. I shall owe my education to you just as much as though I let you pay for the whole of it, but I won't be quite so much indebted. I know that you don't want me to return the money, but nevertheless, I am going to want to do it, if I possibly can; and winning this scholarship makes it so much easier. I was expecting to spend the rest of my life in paying my debts, but now I shall only have to spend one-half of the rest of it.

I hope you understand my position and won't be cross. The allowance I shall still most gratefully accept. It requires an allowance to live up to Julia and her furniture! I wish that she had been reared to simpler tastes, or else that she were not my room-mate."

 

68% next letter:

"Are you still harping on that scholarship? I never knew a man so obstinate, and stubborn and unreasonable, and tenacious, and bull-doggish, and unable-to-see-other-people's-point-of-view, as you.

You prefer that I should not be accepting favours from strangers.

Strangers!—And what are you, pray?

Is there anyone in the world that I know less? I shouldn't recognize you if I met you in the street. Now, you see, if you had been a sane, sensible person and had written nice, cheering fatherly letters to your little Judy, and had come occasionally and patted her on the head, and had said you were glad she was such a good girl—Then, perhaps, she wouldn't have flouted you in your old age, but would have obeyed your slightest wish like the dutiful daughter she was meant to be.

Strangers indeed! You live in a glass house, Mr. Smith.

And besides, this isn't a favour; it's like a prize—I earned it by hard work. If nobody had been good enough in English, the committee wouldn't have awarded the scholarship; some years they don't. Also— But what's the use of arguing with a man? You belong, Mr. Smith, to a sex devoid of a sense of logic. To bring a man into line, there are just two methods: one must either coax or be disagreeable. I scorn to coax men for what I wish. Therefore, I must be disagreeable.

I refuse, sir, to give up the scholarship; and if you make any more fuss, I won't accept the monthly allowance either, but will wear myself into a nervous wreck tutoring stupid Freshmen."

 

70% in, a suffrage aside:

"... Don't you think I'd make an admirable voter if I had my rights? I was twenty-one last week. This is an awfully wasteful country to throw away such an honest, educated, conscientious, intelligent citizen as I would be."

 

70% in, that she has to ask to visit NY city over Christmas vacation and yet gets no answer? He's both selfish and rude.

And she's staying with relatives of his, which makes his silence even more annoying.

(show spoiler)

:

"...Thank you for permission to visit Julia—I take it that silence means consent."

 

74% in, after the NYC visit:

"...I've seen loads of theatres and hotels and beautiful houses. My mind is a confused jumble of onyx and gilding and mosaic floors and palms. I'm still pretty breathless but I am glad to get back to college and my books—I believe that I really am a student; this atmosphere of academic calm I find more bracing than New York. College is a very satisfying sort of life; the books and study and regular classes keep you alive mentally, and then when your mind gets tired, you have the gymnasium and outdoor athletics, and always plenty of congenial friends who are thinking about the same things you are. We spend a whole evening in nothing but talk—talk—talk—and go to bed with a very uplifted feeling, as though we had settled permanently some pressing world problems.

It isn't the great big pleasures that count the most; it's making a great deal out of the little ones—I've discovered the true secret of happiness, Daddy, and that is to live in the now. Not to be for ever regretting the past, or anticipating the future; but to get the most that you can out of this very instant."

Webster is really good at describing the college experience. Of course, it helps that I went to one of those traditional women's colleges (7 Sisters), so there are lots of parallels for me.

 

80% Daddy offers to send her to Europe since a roommate is going too, and Master Jervie says he's going at the same time and insists she go - but Judy already has set up a summer job tutoring for money because she wants to start supporting herself.

Remember Master Jervie = Daddy: and this is the maturity level of her guardian.

(show spoiler)

"...Anyway, he insisted on my going to Europe. He said that it was a necessary part of my education and that I mustn't think of refusing. Also, that he would be in Paris at the same time, and that we would run away from the chaperon occasionally and have dinner together at nice, funny, foreign restaurants.

Well, Daddy, it did appeal to me! I almost weakened; if he hadn't been so dictatorial, maybe I should have entirely weakened. I can be enticed step by step, but I WON'T be forced. He said I was a silly, foolish, irrational, quixotic, idiotic, stubborn child (those are a few of his abusive adjectives; the rest escape me), and that I didn't know what was good for me; I ought to let older people judge. We almost quarrelled—I am not sure but that we entirely did!

In any case, I packed my trunk fast and came up here [her tutoring job]. I thought I'd better see my bridges in flames behind me before I finished writing to you. They are entirely reduced to ashes now."

 

84%:

"I'm going on with biology again this year—very interesting subject; we're studying the alimentary system at present. You should see how sweet a cross-section of the duodenum of a cat is under the microscope.

Also we've arrived at philosophy—interesting but evanescent. I prefer biology where you can pin the subject under discussion to a board."

 

88%, on reading Samuel Pepys for "English History [class], original sources:"

"Samuel was as excited about his clothes as any girl; he spent five times as much on dress as his wife—that appears to have been the Golden Age of husbands. Isn't this a touching entry? You see he really was honest. 'Today came home my fine Camlett cloak with gold buttons, which cost me much money, and I pray God to make me able to pay for it.' "

 

89%

"Just back from church—preacher from Georgia. We must take care, he says, not to develop our intellects at the expense of our emotional natures—but methought it was a poor, dry sermon (Pepys again). It doesn't matter what part of the United States or Canada they come from, or what denomination they are, we always get the same sermon. Why on earth don't they go to men's colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application?"

 

90%, sadly I have to confess that it's only in the past few years I've learned this about Rousseau - who everyone in his time thought had such great ideas on child education - and meanwhile here's a character discussing it in a book in 1912 (apparently his contemporaries didn't find out about his multiple kids that he didn't raise)

"... If I have five children, like Rousseau, I shan't leave them on the steps of a foundling asylum in order to insure their being brought up simply."

 

93%, she's not often read now which makes me feel I should read some of her work:

" I have decided to stay until I've written 114 novels like Anthony Trollope's mother. Then I shall have completed my life work and can retire and travel."

 

 

 

 

 

Random books cited that I had to look up out of curiosity:

 

Life of Benvenuto Cellini  - Autobiography (Gutenberg) - this is referred to in some of the older books I've read (1900s to around 1930s at least), and when a book gets mentioned multiple times I start thinking I need to add it to TBR

 

Marie Bashkirtseff's journal - From Childhood to Girlhood (Gutenberg) after the quote above, I can't resist looking it up.