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review 2014-08-13 21:54
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.

(spoiler show)


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.


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text 2014-04-08 18:53
Reading in Progress: Ladies of the Grand Tour, and Lady Charlotte Bury
Ladies of the Grand Tour: British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth-Century Europe - Brian Dolan

I'm never able to resist starting a book even if I'm already reading multiple others - which is why I've been shadow reading this book for ages. In fact I had to reread a chunk of what I'd previously read just to remind myself of it. Which would only be a problem if I didn't enjoy this sort of history - lots of anecdotes about all sorts of women. In the chapter Education & Improvement, it specifically looks at the various ways women felt about learning and reading - which is always something I enjoy reading about.


Today I'm going to pass along one of the many Books I Find After Reading About Them In Another Book - just to give you an idea of how I can end up with 1) a huge TBR pile and 2) countless old (free!) books in ebook form on my ereader.


After several pages on how some women of the time were reading a variety of subject matter (with some of their reading lists), page 41:


"...The national library at the British Museum (which, under the privilege of copyright deposit, acquired a copy of every work printed in the United Kingdom - a privilege vested to this day) was the most overwhelming. By 1811, Princess Charlotte's companion, Lady Charlotte Bury, accompanied a royal entourage to the Museum, and was taken aback by the staggering display of bound knowledge. 'I was interested in walking through the magnificent library, and in looking at the statues; yet whenever I view these collections my mind is depressed,' she confessed in her journal.

'I devoured with greedy eyes the outside of the volumes, and wished - oh! how vainly - that their contents were stored in my brain. A whole life of learned labour would not suffice for that; what chance have I then, in the middle of my days [she was thirty-six], of accomplishing such a wish?'


In a further self-effacing tone she lamented that 'I shall leave nothing to excite one emulative sigh when I am gone! I shall die, and nothing will tell of my existence!' In fact, the next year she began writing, and left numerous novels and her Diary published for posterity."


Now here's the fun part - while Lady Charlotte was later published and then had books in all sorts of libraries in her lifetime, she also can be remembered now by her many books available as ebooks. (I know Google angered a lot of authors by its digitizing many older, assumed-to-be-public-domain works without permission, but I can never say anything disparaging about that as I've now read so many Google-digitized-texts that I'd only have found in 'meatspace' libraries through a lot of research and car trips.) So even if you don't intend to read any of her work - you can go take a look at it through these links, and read a page or two online, and remember her existence (which I suspect she'd have loved).


I'm not 100% sure which is actually volume 1 versus vol 2, links to Internet Archive:


Diary of a Lady in Waiting, Vol 1 (?) - physical copy at Univ. of Michigan

Diary of a Lady in Waiting, Vol 2 (?) - physical copy at Univ. of California


Those links via Univ. of Pennsylvania's page of Online Books of Charlotte Campbell Bury, which has links to many of her other diaries and novels.


Oddly the only book of hers at Gutenberg is The Lady's Own Cookery Book, and New Dinner-Table Directory (1844), which seems quite practical (or the parts I've skimmed anyway):


"Never use the hands when it is possible to avoid it; and, when you do, have a clean basin of water to dip them in, and wipe them thoroughly several times while at work, as in mixing dough, &c.


Use silver or wooden spoons; the latter are best for all confectionery and puddings. Take care that the various spoons, skewers, and knives, be not used promiscuously for cookery and confectionery, or even for different dishes of the same sort.


If an onion is cut with any knife, or lies near any article of kitchen use, that article is not fit for service till it has been duly scoured and laid in the open air. The same remark applies to very many strong kitchen herbs. This point is scarcely ever enough attended to."


I've not yet read much of her diaries yet - but this is definitely not the first time I've read Lady Charlotte quotes in a history book. Which means that she's definitely on my TBR list, just to see if the whole of her diaries are as good as the quotes make it seem.

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text 2014-03-20 19:03
File This Under: Weird Book Moment - I Bet Others Will Recognize This
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her - Melanie Rehak

The Weird Book Moment: when two very different books you're reading suddenly deal with the same example or topic. This doesn't count books on the same subject or set in the same time period - because you'd expect the same references in those. (This will probably happen more often to people who have a habit of reading multiple books at the same time. Once I thought this was a bad habit of mine, but then I decided it was something fun, and I'd just accept and go with it.)


This will make more sense once I give you today's example.


  I finally picked up Quiet, yet another book on my ereader that's been tapping it's metaphorical foot, annoyed that it's taken me so long to get around to reading it. And there I was, barely into the first chapter when I read (8% in)


"...The Chautauqua movement, born in 1873 and based in upstate New York, sends gifted speakers across the country to lecture on literature, science, and religion. Rural Americans prize these presenters for the whiff of glamour they bring from the outside world - and their power to mesmerize an audience."


Which is this Chautauqua on wikipedia:


"an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Named after Chautauqua Lake where the first was held, Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in America.""


  And I had that link all ready because I was just reading it a few days ago when Chautauqua came up in (one of) the other book I'm reading, Girl Sleuth, which is about the women behind the Nancy Drew books and their biographies. From page 35ish/10 to 11% in:


"...Originally a kind of weeklong summer camp for families that specialized in education for Sunday school teachers, reflecting the nation's growing interest in the professionalism of teaching, the nondenominational, through very vaguely Protestant, Chautauqua assemblies soon grew into gatherings that welcomed anyone interested in "education and uplift" in the form of lectures, plays, music, and readings. By the turn of the century, Chautauqua was known as "a center for rather earnest, but high-minded, activities, that aimed at intellectual and moral self-improvement and civic involvement." ...Its adult education courses of study could be followed in one's living room as easily in Iowa as they could in New York, and as graduates of the program went out into the world, spreading the movement's gospel, independent Chautauquas sprung up all over the country. ..."Chautauqua functioned for many lower- and middle-class women much as the elite women's colleges did for upper class women. ...They were training grounds from which women could launch 'real' careers." "


That's an example of The Weird Book Moment. There was no way to predict that a book about introverts was suddenly going to cite the same educational movement I'd just read about in a book on Nancy Drew. And now these two books are always going to be inter-connected in my mind, just because of that reference and the fact that I happened to be reading both of them at the same time.


Meanwhile the Chautauqua movement is interesting, especially looking back to a time when education was highly valued and there were all sorts of attempts at providing more access to it. As opposed to now when we simultaneously have some folks scoffing at the concept of intellectualism (as a bad thing), many cities/states decreasing funding for public schools even at the elementary level, and the prices of post high school education increasing to ridiculous levels.

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