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The Getting of Wisdom

By Harriet Condron

If you wanted to read a book and fall in love with beautiful characters, this is not the book for you. Set in 1890, in a school for young girls, we are faced with the lies, cheating, self-absorption and pettiness that comes with young girls at boarding school. The protagonist, Laura Rambotham, is an ungrateful and selfish child.

At twelve Laura is sent to an exclusive girls’ school where she hopefully gains some manners. Throughout her adventures she is resilient about adulthood. Every attempt she fails at maturity she is ridicule and embarrassed by her peers.

Students at the school compete over status. With her mother working afford to send her to school, Laura tries to convince her friends of her wealth and status.

At one point in the book we see Laura’s classmate humiliated after being caught stealing money from some rich girls. Laura is made aware of the fragility of her identity, fortifying the desire to fit in with everyone else.

The best thing about this novel is that you’re never entirely sure where Laura is at. She is a child full of uncertainty, constantly trying to figure out where she belongs. The fact that this account is semi-autobiographical makes it even more believable.

Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson used the pseudonym Henry Handel Richardson to write the novel as she didn’t want the celebrity status that often came with writing and, most likely, to ensure her book was treated fairly by critics. Women at this time faced discrimination from all angles, especially within literature.

A classic piece of Australian literature, The Getting of Wisdom landscapes the new land of Melbourne and growing up. And, despite the amount of frustration you might feel with Laura and her classmates, the same frustration is felt by most girls trying to navigate in a world run by men.

Image Bruce Bedford’s The Getting of Wisdom Road Show Entertainment

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