Jerusha Abbott, an eighteen year old orphan, faces an uncertain future in the charity home where she has lived all her life. On reaching adulthood, the orphanage can no longer offer shelter to its inmates. Her anxiety leads her into wild speculation when she is summoned to the matron's office. But a surprise awaits her. One of the visitors, a wealthy Trustee of the orphanage, has offered to fund Jerusha's college education and fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. The only condition he makes is that he remain anonymous and that she write to him regularly about her progress.
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster was first published in 1912. It follows an epistolatory format and traces the story through a series of letters exchanged between the youthful heroine, Jerusha and her mysterious benefactor whom she has privately nicknamed Daddy-Long-Legs based on a brief glimpse she caught of him once. The book is a young girl's classic coming-of-age tale, a genre that includes the Little Women trilogy, the Katy series and the Anne of Green Gables books. Apart from being a heart-warming story, it also reflects the author's social concerns and her interest in women's issues and the suffragette movement. It is in a way a Beauty and the Beast fairy tale that reflects the transformation of the characters and their attitudes towards each other and life.
Jean Webster was born in New York into a literary family. Her father, Charles Webster was Mark Twain's business manager and head of Twain's publishing company, Charles Webster & Co. Her mother was a strong, independent woman, Mark Twain's own niece, who came from a family of forceful matriarchs. However, after initial success, the publishing business and the relationship with the famous author deteriorated and the family moved back to their old home in Fredonia. She began writing columns for local newspapers while traveling on holiday in Europe and published her first book, When Patty Went to College in 1903. Daddy-Long-Legs is Webster's most famous and popular novel and first appeared as a serial in the Lady's Home Journal.
So great was its popularity that Jean Webster was commissioned to adapt it for stage in 1913. She toured with the theater company and enjoyed even greater success. Daddy-Long-Legs dolls became all the rage in that era!