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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Jerusha Abbott (or Judy, as she decides to call herself) is the oldest girl at the John Grier Home (an orphanage), and when the subject of her future comes up at a Trustee meeting, along with the fact that she is quite good in school (particularly in English)-- they read a humorous essay she's written for school about the Wednesdays when Trustees come to visit the orphanage, and one eccentric Trustee decides to pay for her to go to college and educate her as a writer. He prefers to remain anonymous - she doesn't even know his name, and all she sees is a tall silhouette, and a shadow from car headlights that looks like a daddy-long-legs spider, which is where Judy comes up with her nickname for him. His only requirement for putting her through college is that she write him a letter once a month. From there on, the book is told entirely through Judy's letters to her benefactor as she goes through her four years of college. The book is a quick, entertaining read, and Judy is delightfully engaging letter-writer: the letters change style depending on her mood or the things she is learning in college, and she is good company.

Judy seems like such a real, believable character. She's very opinioniated in some ways-- particularly with regard to other people's ideas of the poor and the orphans. At college, she keeps to herself the fact that she was a foundling, and trie her best to fit in-- and when the other girls mention books she's not familiar with, she starts reading all the wonderful books that she missed out on as a child in the orphanage. She had such an active mind and imagination that it is easy to be carried along with her as she learns and studies and develops.

I read this book years ago; I think it might actually be better than I remembered it (perhaps I read it too quickly or wasn't paying enough attention). I think I've also seen at least two movie versions of it - most recently, the 1955 Fred Astaire / Leslie Caron version (which I initially decided to watch mainly for the stars-- to see two amazing, but very different, dancers together). At various points as I was reading the book, I discovered that movie version to be rather more faithful than I had expected (although of course jazzed up with some dance scenes to let Astaire and Caron show off), and is an interesting counter-point to the book in a way, because it shows much more of Jervis' perspective than the book, which is naturally all filtered through Judy's mind and her pen.

I read the free Google Books epub version, which had some typos and spacing errors (although never unreadable), and had some of the illustrations but I think not all of them. If it had occurred to me to look, I might have read the Project Gutenberg version, although their epub version apparently doesn't have pictures either. I did enjoy the illustrations, because they help convey some of Judy's playfulness and girlishness.

Author:Jean Webster
Date published:1912
Genre:Epistolary Fiction
Number of pages:218
Notes:second reading; read an electronic edition


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