Friday, January 20, 2012

Appreciative Note from a Student: Research on Jean Webster

Daddy Longlegs

I sometimes receive notes of appreciation from my Korean students. Such appreciation always goes beyond what I deserve, but it occasionally verges on the metaphysical. One student, who wrote a research paper during the Fall 2011 Semester on Jean Webster's famous novel Daddy-Long-Legs (1912), left me the following note just yesterday:
You are the first one [i.e., instructor] I'm writing to. First of all I want to express my gratitude to you. I really appreciate you. I owe you so much. You greatly helped me when I was goofing around from the first of the semester. I couldn't narrow down the right topic, I didn't know how to write a thesis statement, a proposal, works cited and I never knew how to google something to find information. Then you helped me to go through everything from A to Z. You told me how to come up with a specific topic, how to build a structure, how to google the resources, and how much I was surprised when you suddenly approached me and said "Spiderman: Daddy-Long-Legs as Ambiguous Benefactor -- that's your title."

That title always showed me the right direction when I was in a maze. While I was writing the thesis overtime [i.e., over time?], I couldn't help but think you Jeffery Hodges was [sic., "were"] ambiguous. Your first impression was scary somewhat, your eyes were so bright and straight like a pair of laser shots, you weren't sugar-coated, you weren't so funny but as time went by you turned out to be sooooooo generous daddy [sic., "such a generous 'daddy'"], always willing to help students, and sometimes even funny too! I believe you are also an ambiguous teacher. Are you Daddy-Long-Legs? You are NOT a spider and you are NOT strange Jervis Pendleton. Now I draw up a conclusion: you are an angel with a pair of laser shots . . .

Again, thank you very very much for teaching me academic writing. Now I have my own thesis. Actually I revised it a bit more and want to give it to you . . . .

Did I tell you I'll be an exchange student in State University of New York at Stony Brook this year? My adventure continues. I'm thrilled. Wish me luck.

After I come back to Ewha, I'd love to take [another of] your . . . class[es].

Thank you so much . . . .

An "angel"? Maybe a fallen one, but that gets us into Milton's territory, and we'd best stick to Jean Webster. Her novel -- in case you're unfamiliar with it -- is about an orphan girl (Jerusha "Judy" Abbott) who is given a college scholarship by an secretive benefactor (Jervis Pendleton), whom she calls "Daddy-Long-Legs" because she happened to glimpse his long-legged shadow. That's the reason offered by Jerusha, anyway, but I suggested to my student that this nickname might signify Jerusha's sense of an "ambiguity" in the benefactor's character since the nickname calls up an image of the identically named spider-like creature, spiders being the scary stuff of nightmares even if the arachnid known as daddy longlegs is less frightening in appearance than a true spider, and was sometimes considered beneficial by children (e.g., the game "Daddy Longlegs, Daddy Longlegs, where are the cows . . .").

Anyway, to assist in the search for secondary literature that might support an ambiguous reading of the novel, I directed the student to feminist articles, which I didn't doubt would supply more-than-adequate critiques of such a controlling figure as Daddy-Long-Legs. Those critical readings, combined with recognition of the benefactor's acts of generosity, filled in the details needed as evidence for an ambiguous reading -- and possibly a contribution to the critical literature on this novel.

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