A Novel Affair

New Encounters Through Correspondence

Black and white cover of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs with a black double-line border and illustration of a lanky, stick-like figure of a man with a hat holding a cane and dog behind him. The text on the cover reads: Daddy-Long Legs by Jean Webster with illustrations by the author. New York. The Century Co. 1912. A stamp on the bottom of the cover reads: New York Public Library.
1912 Cover of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

While letters are often regarded as personal forums for expression, many of the epistolary novels explored in this research began with two characters encountering one another for the first time through correspondence. The epistolary novels which follow this theme tended to eventually become intimate spaces for exchange between the characters who, over the course of novel’s plot, develop a relationship with one another. This theme was most popular during the 20th century, with 80% of epistolary novels in this period including some aspect of new encounters as as the premise for the start of the novel. For example, in Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (1991), the characters live on opposite sides of the globe and first encounter each other through a letter written from Sabine to Griffin, a well-known artist. Then, over the course of the plot, the two are able to develop a deep friendship through their correspondence.1 Similarly, in Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs (1912), the protagonist, Judy, writes tobenefactor who agreed to pay for her college education with the stipulation that she must write to him often about her progress. However, despite having no clear idea of who the donor is, Judy begins to write more comfortably and openly with him as the novel progresses.23

(1) Bantock, Nick. (1991). Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence.San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
(2) Webster, Jean. (1913). Daddy-Long-Legs. New York: The Century Company.
(3) Other such examples of this theme include: Sara Zarr’s Roomies, Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist, Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief, John Marsden’s Letters from the Inside, Saul Bellow’s Herzog.