Review: Dear Enemy

Dear EnemyJean Webster, Dear Enemy

This sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs centers around Judy’s college friend Sallie McBride, a cheerful but frivolous young woman whose wealth has prevented her from ever having to work for a living. So when Judy and her husband encourage Sallie to take over the administration of the orphanage where Judy grew up, Sallie is flabbergasted. At first she outright refuses their proposal, but eventually they convince her to give it a try. Sallie is shocked to discover that she has an aptitude for the work; and what’s more, she enjoys it! Slowly but surely, she begins to reform the orphanage and give a little joy to the orphans in her care. She also clashes immediately with the local doctor, Robin MacRae, whom she frequently addresses as “Dear Enemy.” But the more they are forced to work together, the more they come to recognize each other’s good qualities, until an unexpected tragedy finally forces Sallie to confront her true feelings.

Like Daddy-Long-Legs before it, this book is a charmingly old-fashioned epistolary novel that I absolutely adored! Sallie is an entertaining correspondent, and her letters (mostly to Judy) are light and chatty and lots of fun to read. I enjoyed the romance a lot as well — maybe even more so than in DLL (and those who’ve read DLL will understand why!). The book is also interesting for its exploration of the role of women in the workforce. Sallie encounters a lot of skepticism from the local community about whether she’s capable of being a good administrator, but she joyfully and determinedly proves them all wrong. The book is less progressive in its depiction of mental illness: both Sallie and the doctor make a few comments about “feeble-mindedness” and how people with subnormal mental functioning shouldn’t reproduce. But aside from that jarring reminder of the book’s age (pub date 1915), I really loved this book and would definitely recommend it to fans of older fiction, although I do suggest reading Daddy-Long-Legs first!

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