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Jean Webster

Jean Webster Jean Webster[1†]

Jean Webster, born as Alice Jane Chandler Webster on July 24, 1876, in Fredonia, New York, was an American author best known for her books “Daddy-Long-Legs” and "Dear Enemy"[1†][2†]. Her works are notable for their lively and likeable young female protagonists who come of age intellectually, morally, and socially[1†]. Webster’s writing is characterized by humor, snappy dialogue, and gently biting social commentary, making her books enjoyable to contemporary readers[1†].

Early Years and Education

Jean Webster, originally named Alice Jane Chandler Webster, was born on July 24, 1876, in Fredonia, New York[2†][1†]. She was the eldest child of Annie Moffet Webster and Charles Luther Webster[2†][1†]. Her father was Mark Twain’s business manager and subsequently the publisher of many of Twain’s books[2†][1†]. The family moved to a large brownstone in New York, with a summer house on Long Island when Alice was five[2†][1†]. However, the publishing company ran into difficulties, and the relationship with Mark Twain deteriorated[2†][1†]. After her father’s suicide in 1891, Webster attended the Fredonia Normal School and graduated in 1894 in china painting[2†][1†].

From 1894 to 1896, she attended the Lady Jane Grey School in Binghamton, New York[2†][1†]. The school taught academics, music, art, letter-writing, diction, and manners to about 20 girls[2†][1†]. It was at this school that Alice became known as Jean[2†][1†]. Since her roommate was also called Alice, the school asked if she could use another name. She chose “Jean”, a variation on her middle name[2†][1†].

In 1897, Webster entered Vassar College as a member of the class of 1901[2†][1†][4†]. Majoring in English and economics, she took a course in welfare and penal reform and became interested in social issues[2†][1†]. As part of her course, she visited institutions for "delinquent and destitute children"[2†][1†]. She became involved in the College Settlement House that served poorer communities in New York, an interest she would maintain throughout her life[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Jean Webster began her writing career while still in college, contributing a weekly column to the Poughkeepsie Sunday Courier[1†][2†]. At the same time, she started writing the stories that were collected in her first book, “When Patty Went to College” (1903)[1†][2†]. This was followed by “The Wheat Princess” (1905) and “Jerry, Junior” (1907), both inspired by her extended visit to Italy[1†][2†]. She also published “The Four Pools Mystery” (1908) anonymously and “Much Ado About Peter” (1909)[1†][2†].

Webster’s most popular work, “Daddy-Long-Legs” (1912), was first serialized in the Ladies’ Home Journal and became a best-seller when published in book form[1†][2†]. It was a successful stage play (1914) in Webster’s own adaptation, and a popular Mary Pickford silent film (1919)[1†][2†]. “Daddy-Long-Legs” was not only a successful piece of fiction but also a stimulus to reform the institutional treatment of orphans[1†][2†].

In 1914, Webster published “Dear Enemy”, a sequel to “Daddy-Long-Legs” and also a best-seller[1†][2†]. Throughout her career, Webster was involved in reform movements and was a member of the State Charities Aid association, including visiting orphanages, fundraising for dependent children, and arranging for adoptions[1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Jean Webster was a prolific author who wrote several novels, many of which have become classics. Here are some of her main works:

Webster’s works are characterized by their lively and likeable young female protagonists who come of age intellectually, morally, and socially[5†][1†]. Her writing style, imbued with humor, snappy dialogue, and gently biting social commentary, makes her books enjoyable to contemporary readers[5†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Jean Webster’s works, though light and witty, were subversive commentaries against the patriarchal Victorian society of the early 1900s when women still did not have the vote[7†]. Many of Webster’s works addressed social ills of the day, such as the state of orphan asylums in the country[7†]. Her books feature lively and likeable young female protagonists who come of age intellectually, morally, and socially[7†][1†]. Her writing style, imbued with humor, snappy dialogue, and gently biting social commentary, makes her books enjoyable to contemporary readers[7†][1†].

“Daddy-Long-Legs”, her most popular work, was not only a successful piece of fiction but also a stimulus to reform the institutional treatment of orphans[7†][2†][1†]. The novel tells the story of a girl named Jerusha Abbott, an orphan whose attendance at a women’s college is sponsored by an anonymous benefactor[7†][1†]. Apart from an introductory chapter, the novel takes the form of letters written by the newly styled Judy to her benefactor[7†][1†]. This unique narrative style added a personal touch to the story, making it more relatable and engaging for the readers[7†][8†].

Webster’s works, including “Daddy-Long-Legs” and its sequel “Dear Enemy”, have had a significant impact on literature and society. They have not only entertained readers but also brought attention to important social issues, inspiring changes in the way society treats orphans[7†][2†][1†].

Personal Life

Jean Webster led a life as vibrant and varied as the characters in her novels. She became a freelance writer and lived in Greenwich Village[6†]. She also traveled extensively, touring the world in 1906-07[6†].

In her personal life, Webster found great joy when, at the age of thirty-nine, she married her long-held love, Glenn Ford McKinney[6†][4†]. McKinney was a lawyer, and after their marriage in 1915, they lived in New York City and the Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts[6†][5†].

Webster’s life took a tragic turn when she died a day after the birth of her only child, a daughter[6†][5†]. Her untimely death at the age of 39 left a void in the literary world[6†][1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Jean Webster’s legacy is as vibrant and enduring as her life. Her novels, particularly “Daddy-Long-Legs” and “Dear Enemy”, continue to be celebrated for their lively and likeable young female protagonists who come of age intellectually, morally, and socially[1†]. Her works have been adapted into stage plays and motion pictures, further extending their reach[1†][2†].

Webster’s personal commitment to social reform, particularly for orphans and prisons, was remarkable[1†][7†]. She used her platform as a writer to shed light on these issues, making her not just a successful author, but also a respected advocate for social change[1†][7†].

Despite her untimely death, Webster’s influence continues to be felt. Her books remain popular and are still read today, a testament to her skill as a writer and her ability to create characters that resonate with readers[1†]. Jean Webster’s legacy is a reminder of the power of literature to entertain, educate, and inspire[1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Jean Webster [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Jean Webster: American writer [website] - link
  3. Literary Ladies Guide - Jean Webster, Author of Daddy-Long-Legs [website] - link
  4. Read & Co. Books - Jean Webster Biography [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Webster, Jean (1876–1916) [website] - link
  6. Encyclopedia.com - Webster, Jean [website] - link
  7. Vassar College - Jean Webster ’1901 - Vassar Encyclopedia [website] - link
  8. Literary Ladies Guide - Orphans and Boarding Schools: On rereading Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster [website] - link
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