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The Getting of Wisdom (1910)

by Henry Handel Richardson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4501139,237 (3.69)101
Described by H. G. Wells as the best school story he knew, The Getting of Wisdom is the classic Australian novel of school days, a compelling and frank account of a young girl's coming of age. Laura Tweedle Rambotham, the main character, is the eldest child of a country family. At the age of 12, she is sent off to boarding school in Melbourne and her experiences shock and humiliate the unworldly Laura. The girls at the school are generally from wealthy families and from time to time Laura lets snippets of information about her family slip out - and she suffers for it.… (more)
  1. 00
    Middlemarch by George Eliot (thesmellofbooks)
    thesmellofbooks: The Getting of Wisdom is the rare sort of book that provokes deep self-reflection and a nudge in the direction of peace-making with self and life, and in this way brings to mind [[George Eliot]]'s [Middlemarch]. I am gobsmacked. The novel begins as an entertaining tale of a headstrong young Australian girl going to meet the world at boarding school. It gradually evolves into a subtle, simple, and stunningly real observation of the pressures of conformity and the intolerance of naïveté, which, when paired with a strong desire to be accepted, can lead to many and often rending responses in an imaginative young person. Yet it is not a tragedy. I am left moved, affectionate, a little worried about the future, and yet joyful at the intactness of the protagonist's resilient soul. Bravo, Ms Richardson.… (more)

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» See also 101 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Laura is a country girl whose ambitious single mother saves up the money she makes from embroidery and sends Laura to a snobby private girls' school in Melbourne. Laura is something of a diamond in the rough - intellectually curious and vivacious, but wild and untamed. The wisdom she attains at school hinges mostly on gaining emotional intelligence, as she learns to navigate the hierarchies of schoolgirl life.

Henry Handel Richardson is, of course, the pen-name of Ethel Richardson, one of Australia's great canonical novelists. Based on her own experiences at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC), The Getting of Wisdom was her second novel, and what a novel it is. Laura is not always likable, but she is always engaging, and her thirst for knowledge and acceptance are immediately relatable qualities. I particularly loved her discovery of Ibsen's A Doll's House, although there were other wonderful references - the amusing mistake she makes in thinking that Dante wrote Faust, or her fervently wishing the Oliver Cromwell never existed so she could get out of a particularly difficult history test.

It is particularly extraordinary to think that The Getting of Wisdom was published in 1910, before the two World Wars, before the flowering of modernism, indeed, before all the vastly traumatic history of the twentieth century, and yet it still rings with a freshness and insight that feels authentic more than a hundred years later. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
A lovely book, set in the 1890s but published in 1910, that approaches the "new child at school" trope so popular in British literature of the time and subverts it with a subtly Aussie skewer. The female writer (pseudonymously a man) creates some believable characters, especially in the heroine Laura, and ultimately tells the tale of a square peg who refuses to "be approved" by the round hole of her school, and thus of society. Is it a feminist novel? I'm not sure. But it's the kind of children's literature that could still be appreciated, I hope, by another generation. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
This Virago Modern Classic is about a twelve-year old girl sent to boarding school from her home in the country where she lived with her Mom and sister and two brothers. The title is a bit of an oxymoron in that boarding school doesn't teach her to be wise at all, but to fit in. Kind of sad. ( )
1 vote LisaMorr | Jul 8, 2016 |
Can't believe I gave this books 5 stars on first reading. I could barely finish it on reread. Unrelenting dreariness which I kept expecting to let up and it continued till the end. ( )
  kayclifton | Sep 30, 2015 |
This is one of the classics of Australian literature, a hectic, ironic description of a young girl's experience at a classy but morally and intellectually stultifying boarding school in Melbourne somewhere around 1900. She arrives there lively, spontaneous and imaginative; when she leaves four or five years later she's turned into a calculating, rather snobbish hypocrite. In the meantime she faces humiliation from classmates finding out about her family's relative poverty (her mother is a widow who works to support the children) and she goes through all the classic boarding school experiences: "crushes", jealousies, deceptions, religious and literary enthusiasms, bullying and being bullied, etc. But it all happens at a breathless pace, and we really get the feeling that poor Laura has no time to draw breath and grow up in peace.

It's a formidable attack on contemporary notions of what middle-class young women were supposed to grow up into, as well as on the low quality of the education available to them. And by the standards of the time, it's also pretty outspoken about things like the total lack of sex-education. No wonder that H.G. Wells admired it (although one suspects that H.G. Wells would have enjoyed any book that featured teenage girls in an atmosphere of hothouse sexuality...). Despite being very political, it's always light and often very funny in tone, and it even has something very like an optimistic ending. If you think about other campaigning novels about education set about the same time - Young Torless and The child Manuela were the two that sprang to my mind, for instance - that's quite something. ( )
2 vote thorold | Jun 23, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Handel Richardsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eyre, JustineNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ackland, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greer, GermaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greer, GermaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Probyn, CliveEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steele, BruceEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Proverbs, iv, 7
To my unnamed little collaborator
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The four children were lying on the grass.
Henry Handel Richardson was the name in which Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson chose to make her bid for fame as a novelist. (Introduction)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'Fifty-five heads turned as if by clockwork, and fifty-five pairs of eyes were leveled at the small girl in the white apron who meekly followed Mrs Gurley down the length of the dining-room.  Laura crimsoned under the unexpected ordeal...'  At the turn of the century Laura Rambotham, a gangly dark-haired country girl, is sent to a select Melbourne boarding school.  Poor but proud, Laura longs for acceptance, but lacks the seemly restraint and conventional attitudes of her fellows.  Bewildered by the rigid code and strict discipline of school life, Laura uses her considerable powers to win the friendship she craves, with results often hilarious, usually devastating.  Laura learns to deal with life - and love - the hard way; and in doing so discovers, as thousands of girls have before and since, that learning plays but a small part in the getting wisdom.  First published in 1910, this is probably the best novel of girls at boarding school even written, its heroine Laura conveying quite perfectly the longings of every adolescent girl both to be herself, yet to be as others.  Ebullient, passionate, lovable, Laura is immediately recognizable as a heroine of her time - and of ours.
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Penguin Australia

4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0702231797, 1876485957, 0143202707, 1922079405

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