'A coming-of-age story of a spontaneous heroine who finds herself ensconced in the rigidity of a turn-of-the-century boarding school. The clever and highly imaginative Laura has difficulty fitting in with her wealthy classmates and begins to compromise her ideals in her search for popularity and acceptance.' (From the publisher's website.)
In the early 1900s, the spirited and talented Laura Tweedle Ramsbotham arrives at an exclusive Melbourne ladies' college, only to be greeted with jeers and treated as a country bumpkin. Although she is defiant towards her peers, the pressure almost defeats her. She soon learns, however, to be as ruthless as the other girls. Caught out after inventing an illicit liaison with the handsome new minister, she becomes a pariah until she is taken under the wing of an older girl, the elegant and kindly Evelyn Suitor. Laura subsequently falls in love with Evelyn, causing the latter to leave the school in order to escape Laura's attentions. Laura eventually completes her schooling, winning a two-year music scholarship to study piano.
Source: Australian Screen.
Available in Braille, as sound and video recording, and as adapted secondary school text.
For early reviews see also Gay Howells's bibliography Henry Handel Richardson.
'The dominant form of the nineteenth-century novel was the Bildungsroman, a story of an individual’s development that came to speak more widely of the aspirations of nineteenth-century British society. Some of the most famous examples — David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre — validated the world from which they sprang, in which even orphans could successfully make their way.
Empire Girls: the colonial heroine comes of age is a critical examination of three novels by writers from different regions of the British Empire: Olive Schreiner’s The Story of An African Farm (South Africa), Sara Jeannette Duncan’s A Daughter of Today (Canada) and Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom (Australia). All three novels commence as conventional Bildungsromane, yet the plots of all diverge from the usual narrative structure, as a result of both their colonial origins and the clash between their aspirational heroines and the plots available to them. In an analysis including gender, empire, nation and race, Empire Girls provides new critical perspectives on the ways in which this dominant narrative form performs very differently when taken out of its metropolitan setting.' (Publisher's website)
McLaren discusses a number of Australian novels (all recently re-issued) which have been central to developing the way in which Australians and foreigners think about white society in this continent. He distinguishes several trends and traditions in describing and characterising Australia's social and political system. Whereas Clarke and Richardson present Australia as a prison, Palmer and Waten present it as a land offering the promise of freedom. Furphy, on the other hand, is seen as a writer 'who shows us a country seeming to offer plentitude but finally withholding its promise' (54).
McLaren concludes that the 'past expressed in these fictions variously produced values of solidarity, egalitarianism, harmony with the land, but their values remain circumscribed by fear of the powerless and the dispossessed, by the arrogance of the powerful, and by distrust of the outsider. Our future will be secure only as we accept continuity with the past, enter into dialogue with the differences of the present, and accept a common responsibility towards the land that supports us' (56).