Monday, June 13, 2016

Terms demanded by Daddy-Long-Legs

The penniless orphan Jerusha Abbott - protagonist of Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs - has just glimpsed the back of spider-like 'Daddy-Long-Legs' whose shadow crept across the wall of the John Grier Home for Orphans, and she is now about to discover that this college trustee intends to support her during her college years, but there are certain conditions, as we shall see:
"He waited to discuss the terms with me. They are unusual. The gentleman, I may say, is erratic. He believes that you have originality, and he is planning to educate you to become a writer."

"A writer?" Jerusha's mind was numbed. She could only repeat Mrs. Lippett's words.

"That is his wish. Whether anything will come of it, the future will show. He is giving you a very liberal allowance, almost, for a girl who has never had any experience in taking care of money, too liberal. But he planned the matter in detail, and I did not feel free to make any suggestions. You are to remain here through the summer, and Miss Pritchard has kindly offered to superintend your outfit. Your board and tuition will be paid directly to the college, and you will receive in addition during the four years you are there, an allowance of thirty-five dollars a month. This will enable you to enter on the same standing as the other students. The money will be sent to you by the gentleman's private secretary once a month, and in return, you will write a letter of acknowledgment once a month. That is - you are not to thank him for the money; he doesn't care to have that mentioned, but you are to write a letter telling of the progress in your studies and the details of your daily life. Just such a letter as you would write to your parents if they were living.

'These letters will be addressed to Mr. John Smith and will be sent in care of the secretary. The gentleman's name is not John Smith, but he prefers to remain unknown. To you he will never be anything but John Smith. His reason in requiring the letters is that he thinks nothing so fosters facility in literary expression as letter-writing. Since you have no family with whom to correspond, he desires you to write in this way; also, he wishes to keep track of your progress. He will never answer your letters, nor in the slightest particular take any notice of them. He detests letter-writing and does not wish you to become a burden. If any point should ever arise where an answer would seem to be imperative - such as in the event of your being expelled, which I trust will not occur - you may correspond with Mr. Griggs, his secretary. These monthly letters are absolutely obligatory on your part; they are the only payment that Mr. Smith requires, so you must be as punctilious in sending them as though it were a bill that you were paying. I hope that they will always be respectful in tone and will reflect credit on your training. You must remember that you are writing to a Trustee of the John Grier Home.'
An anonymous - or, rather, pseudonymous - benefactor who requires a monthly letter that he will never answer! And consider this sentence: "Since you have no family with whom to correspond, he desires you to write in this way." This almost entirely innocent sentence perhaps obscures a less innocent expression, namely, "he desires you" in a family way.

Perhaps that reading seems excessive, but I am pursuing a hermeneutic of suspicion . . .



At 10:36 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

An interesting contradiction: she's bidden to write to Mr. "Smith" as if he were family, yet aside from that, "Smith" has made clear that she is anything but. He wants intimacy of tone, but offers no intimacy of his own.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good point. Thanks, I can use that.

Jeffery Hodges

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