Note, Sept. 12, 2016: I edited this review just now to correct the misspelling of tonsillitis.
Before this book was nominated as a common read in my ViNote, Sept. 12, 2016: I edited this review just now to correct the misspelling of tonsillitis.
Before this book was nominated as a common read in my Vintage Tales group, I'd never even heard of it, or of Jean Webster (1876-1916). Going into it, my expectations weren't particularly high. As it turned out, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the reading experience!
Though not well-known today, Webster wrote roughly a score of books in her short lifetime (she died on the cusp of 40). From this book, it's clear that she belongs to the Realist tradition --though, unlike the regionalist Realists of that day, she doesn't (at least here) go in for a sense of place or regional dialect; the geographic location of the orphanage where foundling Jerusha "Judy" Abbott grows up, and of the women's college she eventually attends, are left indeterminate. The premise here, in some ways (though not others), is similar to a distaff version of Great Expectations: a disadvantaged adolescent is befriended and raised in station by an anonymous benefactor, whose deliberately concealed identity creates an element of mystery; she knows only that he's a trustee of the orphanage. (The book title comes from his tall frame and long limbs which, on the one occasion at the beginning of the book where she caught a passing glimpse of his back, made his shadow resemble a daddy-long-legs.) Unlike Pip's benefactor, however, Judy's (influenced by reports from her teachers that she's intelligent and has writing talent) puts most of his benevolence into educating her rather than showering her with spending money, though she gets a decent amount of the latter.
Most of the book is written in the epistolary style, consisting of letters written by Judy to the eponymous "Daddy-Long-Legs," as directed by the terms of her arrangement with him --which also stipulate that he won't reply to her, so it's a one-sided correspondence. Epistolary novels fell out of favor later in the 20th-century, and may have an unfamiliar feel to a generation that seldom writes paper letters. But even for modern readers, the style and diction is lively and humorous, the subjects wide-ranging and interesting; it's both a fascinating window into early 20th-century college and social life, seen through the eyes of a keen observer who's used to being an outsider, and a vehicle for social criticism and theological/philosophical reflection --one suspects that Judy's views mirror Webster's. But it's also a wonderful character study of a thoroughly likable, infectiously enthusiastic girl who's apt to steal your heart. (Yes, she has her moments in the dumps, too, and times when she can be tactless; that just means she's human like the rest of us.) She IS a college girl, though, learning a college girl's vocabulary, so there are occasional big words here. If one or two are unfamiliar to a reader, it's just a chance to build ones' own vocabulary!
Naturally, being a different person than Judy is, I didn't agree with all of her opinions. My religious attitudes are different from her essentially secular ones (though I'm no more enamored of the grim, handed-down Puritanism of rural New England than she is!); and while I approve of her feminism, her Fabian Socialism hasn't worn well over the ensuing century, which saw the horrors of the Socialist experiment of European and Asiatic Communism, and the melt-down of the former. But her attitudes are realistic for a young person of her background, being college-educated in the height of the Progressive era; and in many of the ways that she looks at life, I can recognize that she's wise and perceptive. Many readers will tumble onto a particular plot point much sooner than Judy does (I did, for instance, --but no spoiler here!). But I don't see this as a defect; it imparts an added element of fun to the book if we're in on something Judy doesn't know. Since the usual treatment for tonsillitis is amputation, it's hard to picture her having it twice; and it's also hard to imagine a high school graduate not knowing that Shelley was a poet, or that Henry VIII was married more than once. But these are minor quibbles.
My main problem with the book (which cost it the fifth star) is the fact that for me, Judy's benefactor came across as a bit too distant, with his policy of strict secrecy about his identity and refusal to answer her letters, and too bossy and controlling at several junctures. (He communicates his wishes through his secretary.) To her credit, though, she defies his bossiness on a couple of points, and makes her own decision! The whole situation, of course, becomes more complicated than it starts out; and if our title character had handled the arrangement more sensibly, the book wouldn't have the same distinctive feel and flavor. But to me, it was still a bit off-putting. That didn't keep me from really liking the book!
Webster wrote a sequel to this novel, Dear Enemy. At this point, I wouldn't seek it out as such --I'm trying not to get sucked into more commitments to series and sequels right now. But if I ran across a copy of it, I'd give it a read!...more
Sept. 30, 2016 I've been reading this volume of L'Amour's short Western fiction for several days, while waiting to start a common read in one of my groSept. 30, 2016 I've been reading this volume of L'Amour's short Western fiction for several days, while waiting to start a common read in one of my groups. (Of course, I consider the three volumes of the Frontier Stories to be a single large work.) This volume is very similar in style and outlook, and in the consistently high quality of the storytelling, to the first volume, and most of my comments in my review of that one (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ) would be applicable here as well. There are 29 stories in this one; so far, I've read the first 10.
It can also be said that a number of these stories involve hidden culprits, with plots that make use of very real mystery genre elements (L'Amour also wrote some mystery fiction, such as The Hills of Homicide, although his Westerns are the best-known part of his corpus); so the hero's task often may be much more cerebral than simply to out-draw and out-aim his opponents in a gun fight. Of the ten stories I read here, the last four feature one of L'Amour's series characters, the straight-shooting Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie; these include Bowdrie's origin story, "McNelly Knows a Ranger." As usual, it wasn't easy to pick a favorite from this batch, but mine would probably be the lead story of the volume, "Law of the Desert Born." That was also one that had one of the most unpredictable denouements; and "Horse Heaven" was another tale that went in a direction I didn't anticipate.
I'll be putting this collection aside for now, as I get back into reading whole novels for awhile; but I'll be returning to it!...more