I suppose that in today’s world, a story where a rich, older man anonymously sponsors an orphaned girl’s schooling while also orchestrating in-person meetings would seem, well, creepy. And if you watch the movie with Fred Astaire as Jervis Pendleton and Leslie Caron as little Judy there is a great age gap–about 30 years– between them, cute as the movie may be. But, as expected, the book is different.
First of all, it is all set in America, not France. Second of all, in the book it is easier to imagine about a 10-15 year age gap between them. This is more acceptable. The film immediately reveals that Daddy-Long-Legs and Jervis Pendleton are one and the same. The book does not, but it’s fairly obvious to the perceptive reader. It’s a spoiler that does not really spoil, although one does wonder how this man who is so sweet to young Judy in person can let her toil and wonder why her sponsor never writes back, allowing her to wallow in confusion for 3 years. That is a bit more unacceptable.
It’s an odd story, one that could only be told at a time when the role of women was to be demure and subservient. The book is comprised entirely of Judy’s letters to her sponsor, always a risky tactic, but here it seems to work. The letters are detailed enough to help the reader forget that they are only reading letters. We see a range of emotions from the young orphan, plus cute little sketches, and even some back-pedaling as she feels one thing one day (usually frustration with the one-sided relationship) and retracts it with regret the next.
The part I find most perplexing is the reader demographic for this story, which I can only assume is a teenage girl, an age peer of Judy’s, at the time it was written in 1912. Again, a very different time for women, still eight years away from the 19th Amendment. At one point Judy asks “are women even citizens?” (Jean Webster, the author, was a great supporter of women’s suffrage.)
So, if you keep in mind the context of the time period this book was published, it is easier not to judge it too harshly and see it as just a sweet, unusual story.
Aside from the full-length 1955 American movie, there are many Japanese anime versions of Daddy-Long-Legs. You can find them on YouTube. I came across this short, 12-min bedtime story version, which actually helped me enjoy the book more. Available HERE on Amazon Prime.