Rhythma Kaul, Deputy Editor, Health, picks her favourite read of 2021

Rhythma Kaul, Deputy Editor, Health, picks her favourite read of 2021

American writer Jean Webster’s 1912 novel that comprises a series of letters from an 18-year-old orphan to her unknown benefactor is humorous, full of innocence, and tells an absorbing story that transports the reader back to a world where people still wrote letters

It was after nearly two decades, I think, that I dropped a letter into a mailbox recently. Like most things instant taking over my world (barring instant coffee, thankfully), the humble inland letter was also replaced by emails before I knew it. No matter how much I thank a colleague for presenting me with Daddy-Long-Legs — a book written in 1912 by American writer Jean Webster, it still won’t be enough. An 18-year-old orphan’s college education is funded by an unknown benefactor on one condition — she writes to him regularly. Therefore, the book is in the form of a series of letters written by the principal character, Jerusha Abbott, to her unknown benefactor, whom she calls Daddy-Long-Legs. The letters are humorous, full of innocence, and as fascinating as the reason behind Jerusha calling her mysterious benefactor by that name.

“… 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”.

Rhythma Kaul (Courtesy Rhythma Kaul)
Rhythma Kaul (Courtesy Rhythma Kaul)

Each letter tells an absorbing story that transports you into the world when handwritten letters were a thing. The simplicity in her writing is capable of making you feel nostalgic; and raw emotions ooze out of each word. For me, it worked almost like a piece of performative writing that may want me to do what’s being narrated. Guess that explains my strong urge to post a letter.

As the ‘letter to the reader’ in the beginning explains, books are special because of how they can be interpreted in multiple ways by different people based on the individual’s life phase or state of mind. That Daddy-Long-Legs is particularly special is evident from the fact that, more than a century after it was written, it opened as a musical on November 19, 2021 at The Black Box Theatre in New Mexico, USA.

I am glad I discovered the book. I cannot wait to lay my hands on its sequel, Dear Enemy.


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