05 January 2014


A "Book Boyfriend"

Read about Woods Kerrington and other Book Boyfriends
@ Stuck In Books

It looks as if The Introverted Reader has quietly retired her Character Connection meme. (No official word yet about Shredded Cheddar and the Locus Focus meme. =P) It was while looking for a substitute that I started considering the Book Boyfriend of the Week link up. While it's obviously more limited (and limiting) than Character Connection, that just makes it another sort of challenge. Besides, the character I've been eager to write about for a month is a "boyfriend" of sorts, so this exercise was kind of made to order. 

Jervis Pendleton
by Jean Webster

I only saw Master Jervie once when he called at tea time, and then I didn't have a chance to speak to him alone. It was really disappointing after our nice time last summer. I don't think he cares much for his relatives--and I am sure they don't care much for him! Julia's mother says he's unbalanced. He's a Socialist--except, thank Heaven, he doesn't let his hair grow and wear red ties. She can't imagine where he picked up his queer ideas; the family have been Church of England for generations. He throws away his money on every sort of crazy reform, instead of spending it on such sensible things as yachts and automobiles and polo ponies. He does buy candy with it though! He sent Julia and me each a box for Christmas.

You know, I think I'll be a Socialist, too. You wouldn't mind, would you, Daddy?

Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that Judy's mysterious "Daddy" won't mind at all. =P

When I reread Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs last month, I was surprised to find myself feeling critical toward the character of Jervis Pendleton. For the first time, I could see him as an "older man" who can't help but have the upper hand in everything when he gets into a relationship with college girl Judy Abbott.

Now, it's not quite a Lolita or a Trilby thing: Jervis is only fourteen years older than Judy (which seems like a big difference today, but probably wasn't when Daddy-Long-Legs came out in 1912), and he looks and acts younger than his years. Since he gets to know Judy properly through her roommate, his niece, his original intentions toward her are also quite avuncular. It doesn't take long, however, before he starts to think that he knows better--so much better that he can tell her what to do.

. . . [Jervie] insisted on my going to Europe. He said that it was a necessary part of my education and that I mustn't think of refusing [your offer]. Also, that he would be in Paris at the same time, and that we would run away from the chaperon occasionally and have dinner together at nice, funny, foreign restaurants.

Well, Daddy, it did appeal to me! I almost weakened; if he hadn't been so dictatorial, maybe I should have entirely weakened. I can be enticed step-by-step, but I
won't be forced. He said I was a silly, foolish, irrational, quixotic, stubborn child (those are a few of his abusive adjectives; the rest escape me) and that I didn't know what was good for me; I ought to let older people judge. We almost quarreled--I am not sure but that we entirely did!

This is the third or fourth time I've read Daddy-Long-Legs, but the first time it occurred to me that Jervis stops feeling like a surrogate uncle long before they argue about Europe. Contrary to what he says, he doesn't want Judy to take the trip so she can further her education, but so she can go on dates in London, Paris and Rome with him! In that case, however, shouldn't he back off when she says that she'd rather do something else? Would he really be happy having his own way with her if she spent the whole time wishing she were somewhere else? (To answer the second question: I don't think so. But he doesn't seem to have connected the dots when they have their argument.)

I wanted to write about Jervis as a "Book Boyfriend" because his relationship with Judy highlights what actually matters when people who aren't "equals" in age, experience, wealth, or social standing fall in love. As she writes to her "Daddy" soon after she graduates from college . . .

I wish I could make you understand what [Jervis] is like and how entirely companionable we are. We think the same about everything--I am afraid I have the tendency to make over my ideas to match his! But he is almost always right; he ought to be, you know, for he has fourteen years' start of me. In other ways, though, he's just an overgrown boy, and he does need looking after--he hasn't any sense about wearing rubbers when it rains. He and I always think the same things are funny, and that is such a lot. It's dreadful when two people's senses of humour are antagonistic. I don't believe there's any bridging that gulf!

So he is wiser than she is about most things, and she admits it . . . but she is more sensible than he is about other things, which I can imagine he concedes as well . . . though they happen to be perfect peers when it comes to one thing that can never be compromised on: humour. =)

I've tried to avoid spoilers in this post, but those who know the ending of Daddy-Long-Legs may feel free to mention anything and everything in the combox! Those who don't but are new to Shredded Cheddar may want to check out the spoiler-free Reading Diary: Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.

Image Source: Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster


Ellen Alwaysyaatheart said...

Interesting choice :). Thanks so much for sharing and for participating this week.

DMS said...

I have never read this one before, but after reading the points you made I will definitely have to check it out. You made a lot of great points. Humor is an important thing to have in common in a relationship. Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year!

Enbrethiliel said...


Ellen -- Thanks for visiting! If I find another "book boyfriend" who gets me thinking, I'll link up again. =)

Jess -- Happy New Year to you, too! Daddy-Long-Legs a great "YA" classic, which I'm sure you're going to love! =D

Sheila said...

I have to admit this relationship makes me feel uncomfortable. If you're a young girl who doesn't know what you think about anything, sure, you'll easily absorb the ideas of a stronger-minded older man .... but is that a good thing? What if she gets older and realizes she doesn't really agree after all?

I don't like unbalanced relationships. Perhaps that's just a prejudice on my part. I know a lot of people think they're superior.

Enbrethiliel said...


I know what you mean, because there were a couple of times when I felt that Jervis was actually grooming Judy. But since that wasn't his original intention and she demonstrates an ability to hold her own when push comes to shove, I don't think that she accepts absolutely everything he tells her.

What I find most interesting is that there's a sense in which they do become balanced, but it involves her becoming more like him. Take the age gap: he is in his thirties now, but she will enter her thirties someday, too. He's just experiencing everything before she does. (Since Jean Webster herself believed passionately in the ideas which Jervis has at the beginning and Judy eventually adopts, I think she took it for granted that Judy and Jervis would mature along the same lines.)

And then there's social imbalance: he is from a rich and respected family with an old name and a family tree they can trace back to forever, while she is an orphan who sometimes fears that her parents were "bad" people. But should she marry him, that imbalance would easily be "fixed" because she'd share his name and his position!

I think it's fair to say that the dynamics of those two situations also apply to the imbalance between their ideas. But this is certainly not a popular dynamic in modern relationships! =P

mrsdarwin said...

When I first read Daddy Long-Legs a number of years ago, I focused mainly on the romance of the situation. But having re-read it about a year ago, I'm more uncomfortable with the way the romance pans out. Maybe that's because I like a relationship based on honesty instead of secret benevolence. Of course, Jervis didn't know when he first met Judy that he was going to fall in love with her -- or did he? Was it sheer kindness that led him to play fairy godmother to Judy's Cinderella? He saw her first, after all.

But Judy can certainly punch back, which helps keep the relationship (more) equal.

Enbrethiliel said...


Likewise, it's the lack of honesty, more than the lack of balance, that really bothers me. I wouldn't have faulted Jervis's decision to keep the secret for as long as he wanted if he hadn't hidden ulterior motives behind that "generous" gift of a European tour. It does make one wonder whether he had secret motives from the beginning . . . or whether there was also another reason he didn't want Judy to spend a summer with the McBrides! =P I think that his intentions were totally pure at the start (because it's clear that he's the eccentric and generous sort in other things), but I really hate that he makes Judy stay at Lock Willow and only visits for a short while. He ends up being the highlight of her summer, while she is just one of the balls he has in the air. I'm glad she puts her foot down the next summer--even if she doesn't know the whole truth!

By the way, you know that there's a Daddy-Long-Legs musical, right? The song Mr. Girl Hater warms my heart. =)

Sammy said...

Without coming across as an apologist for Jervis' behaviour, we have to remember that the book was purely from Judy's point of view, and I see Jervis' controlling and manipulating behaviour (on the odd occasion) as a central plot device in helping shape Judy into an independent, free spirited woman. Yeah, she changes a lot to be more like him (don't we all when we're in love?) but so does he. She teaches him the true value of charity and how to treat a woman. They enter their marriage as equals; Judy is never inferior to Jervis or manipulated in anyway (if anything, Judy had HIM wrapped around HER little finger by encouraging him to sponsor another little girl when she wouldn't refuse the scholarship, and getting him to fund that poor family).

I like the fact that Jervis is flawed. How BORING would he be if he was perfectly perfect and it was only Judy, so feminist and awesome, who changed? I see him on par with Mr Darcy, and Lizzie practically had to undergo a detective hunt to discover the heart in that man.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Sammy! Thanks for your comment. =)

You're right that the whole story is told from Judy's point of view, so we don't really see how Jervis himself is changed by their relationship. That he is happy to give her expensive gifts of both clothing ("Do you wish to turn me into a Plutocrat?" Translation: Send moar, pleez =P) and charitable donations doesn't really mean that she has influenced his character, though she has certainly influenced his affections. Judy makes her opinions over to match his because she comes to believe he is right; but if Jervis does anything to accommodate Judy, it is because he wants to make her happy. There really is a difference.

So I'd hesitate to use the shibboleth of "equality" to describe their relationship in the end. Jervis clearly grows to admire and respect Judy as a woman, but that doesn't mean he also becomes like her in the way she becomes like him.