The Getting of Wisdom By Henry Handel Richardson

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The subject of this book is a young woman: an awkward, insecure, restless and ‘knowing’ child who learns that self-realisation depends on rebellion and escape, but that the latter will first demand at least the semblance of conformity. In telling lies, Laura learns both the astonishing allure of fiction and the social costs of stepping beyond the bounds of propriety, gender, class, and family ties.
The novel is only in part a fictionalised account of Richardson’s school years at the Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne, where (unlike her fictional counterpart) she was not only academically successful but also an outstanding student of music. Unusual for stories of school-life, The Getting of Wisdom was clearly aimed at a mature readership able to understand irony and a critique of the colonial educational provision of its day, including a determination to preserve sexual ignorance in young women.

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