Dear EnemyMay 5, 2007
I’ve just reread Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy for an English paper I’m writing. It’s the lesser-known sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, in which orphan Judy Abbot is sent to college by one of her orphanage’s trustees, and the two end up falling in love. In Dear Enemy, Judy and her husband ask Sallie McBride, Judy’s college roommate and best friend, to take over the management of the orphanage and make it a less awful place to live.
Sallie, a frivolous socialite from Massachusetts, wouldn’t be most peoples’ first choice to run an orphanage, but after Gordon Hallock, a young politician to whom she’s not quite engaged, implies that he doesn’t think she can do it, she takes the job immediately.
During the ensuing year or so, Sallie institutes various reforms, reads up on heredity and eugenics, and gets in a lot of arguments with the local doctor, Robin MacRae AKA Enemy AKA Sandy AKA The Laird o’ Cockpen AKA Dr. Cod-Liver AKA Macphairson Clon Glocketty Angus McClan AKA Mr. Someday Soon. The other characters like to come up with nicknames for him in their spare time.
Anyway, he forces Sallie to read about hereditary criminals and idiots while she forces him to read the diary of Marie Bashkirtseff, and they grow to like each other. Sandy also turns out to have an insane wife locked up in an institution somewhere, but she dies halfway through, so after Sandy performs a heroic rescue when the orphanage gets set on fire, they declare their love for each other.
It’s not as silly as it sounds. Or maybe it is, but it’s also completely adorable, and there’s one scene in particular that makes me melt into a puddle of goo every time I read it. Really though, my favorite thing about this book is that the part about the crazy wife is partially autobiographical — Jean Webster was secretly engaged for a number of years to a guy who did have an insane wife who was periodically institutionalized.