Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy Half-Birthday to Me......

I do this every year, don't I. Announce my half birthday and expect felicitations. Oh gawd, so immature, you're thinking. When will she ever grow up? I think the safe bet is on: never.

I am rereading one of my favorite books, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. I first loved this book when I found it among the lot of second-hand books my mother bought at a used bookstore. All the books were circa the teens and 20s, illustrated, hard-cover girl's novels. What would be called Young Adult today. The paper on some of them had achieved parchment state and as I was often sent to sit in the bathroom with a book, I had a fondness for crunching off the corners of pages and dropping them between my legs into the toilet. Talk about an early form of dog-earred.

Daddy Long Legs is what we in the lit biz call an epistolary novel. That is, it consists of a series of letters, rather than straightforward exposition. This was, class, the first genre of novel to exist and was a particular favorite of women writers. The story is rags-to-riches, in some way. Jerusha Abbott is plucked from the orphanage in which she had grown up by a rich man to be sent all expenses paid to college. All she must do in return is write regular letters to him reporting her progress. What ensues over the next four years is a blend of coming of age, love story, feminist tract, and sociological exploration that is funny and tender and touching and maddening and eternal. It has been made, not very well in my opinion, into a movie twice. In my screenwriter days, I once pitched it to Ron Samuels and he actually showed some interest, but as was my wont, I never got off my ass to do more than talk about it. I still think it would be a fantastic film today, and I'd love to do the script for it, and still have my notes hanging around somewhere, if anyone is interested...

I am not reading my original copy. No, I'm much too much a today's chick (although I don't believe that vernacular is quite as au courant as I would like) for that. I'm getting it on-line. Sent to me in my email, a letter at a time by Daily Lit, who have lots of other books in their library. I know there are people who swear the internet has killed the novel. But how can that be when the internet is bringing me a book written way back in the early 20th century? Isn't that just widening the group of possible readers? And isn't that a good thing for publishing and writers and readers. Okay, it's bad for typesetters and paper manufacturers. But good for trees.


  1. An epistolary novel, e-mailed to you one letter at a time?

    If that isn't my idea of heaven, I don't know what is.

    Happy half-birthday!

  2. Anonymous4:17 PM

    Happy half-birthday! And I do the same solicitous thing EVERY YEAR.

  3. Happy half-birthday!

    And thanks for mentioning Daily Lit. I will have to try it!

  4. I also want to thank you for that link. And say again how much I love the internet.

  5. Oh My God! This is so awesome! I've never heard of this before. I have accessed Public Domain stories before via some Gutenberg site, probably some of the same stuff that you can read all at once, except that you can't bookmark it, so it's hard to keep your place. This is fantastic. I just subscribed to Daddy Long Legs - if it's your favorite, I want to see what it's all about.

    And Happy Half-Birthday!


So--whaddaya think?