Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Enemy

Well!  I just read (noticed I didn't say, "finished") the book that wins the Weirdest Book-Read-by-Me of the Year award.  I mentioned it in the library loot post two weeks ago and I had high hopes for it.  It languished for a while at the bottom of the library book crate and other, shinier books were read first.  Yesterday was muggy and rainy,  so I retired with Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.  The book is the story of young Sallie, a friend of Judy, the heroine of Daddy Longlegs-Webster's more famous book.  Tired of living a shallow life in Cambridge, Sallie agrees to become superintendent of the orphanage where Judy grew up.
And the cover was so fantastic, too…

This book is written in letter form and Sallie writes letters to Judy and her husband and the orphanage doctor, telling them about about her adventures in the orphanage.  There are accounts of reforming the unwholesome meals, leaving the windows open in the middle of January (this was the 20s where, apparently, it was fad to have sleeping porches and the like and to get plenty of healthy oxygen).  There is the steady winning over of the curmudgeonly staff and the gentle little romance with the dour Scottish doctor.  Now doesn't that sound like a cozy read for a rainy day?

Ahem.  It was definitely not.  Now before I criticize this book, I'm going to just give a little preamble.  Yes, I do realize that this was a different era and that people had different views than they have today, different things were acceptable, etc, etc.  But I couldn't get behind the general disturbing weirdness throughout the book.  Sallie and the Scottish Doctor are ardent believers in eugenics, of all strange things.  The doctor, an extremely "scientific" sort, we're assured by the author, gives Sallie these weird long lectures on how there are some people who are born "feeble-minded".  There is nothing to do for them, so says the doctor, but to keep them secluded until they die out and then won't we all be happier.

But wait, it only gets more awful.  There is a little girl at the orphanage whom Sallie supposedly feels terrible for who won't respond to any teaching.  Sallie tells the doctor in one of her letters that she just wishes that the doctor could euthanize this little girl to end her misery and put an end to a race that will go nowhere good.  I feel slightly ill just writing that.  I am sorry, but even in a different era, that is just disturbing.  After that particular impassioned letter, I found that I had no more sympathy for Sallie, her romantic Scottish doctor, or any of the other characters.  I'm sorry Jean Webster, you took things entirely too far this time.

If there had been one brief paragraph, I would have rolled my eyes and kept reading, but this was a repeated theme throughout the whole book.  So I smacked the book shut, started the second Her Royal Spyness book and sat down to write this post.  The End.  Oh, and don't read this unless you are far more tolerant than I and can stomach some really weird social commentary.


  1. I know, isn't that so bizarre and off-putting? I told you, you should have read Daddy Long Legs! (Although you may be totally fed up with Jean Webster now, it does not have any of that disgusting element in it, that I recall.)

    1. Okay, I'll take your good advice and read Daddy Long Legs!

  2. I reread Daddy Long-Legs recently - it was nothing like I'd remembered. Judy seemed a bit too winsome and the ending just seemed really obvious, almost as if she had manipulated him into it! I had not remembered the eugenics strand to Dear Enemy either - don't think I'll be rereading any more Webster, it sounds horrifying!