Author: Henry Handel Richardson
Ages: young adult +
First Published: 1910
So The Getting of Wisdom has been sitting on my bookshelf for many months now and I finally got around to reading it. It has been described as a ‘coming of age’ story written by an Australian author, Henry Handel Richardson (the pen name for Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) and first published in 1910.
Set in Australia in around Melbourne, the story follows that of the bright, imaginative, young Laura Tweedle Rambotham as she is sent off to boarding school. Here she quickly discovers that things aren’t as she expected them to be. Trying to fit in, Laura finds herself changing her behaviours to please those around her, even when they’re not consistent with her own inner feelings. Of course this only works for so long and often leads to disaster for Laura.
I have to say that when I first picked up this book and bought it, this was not what I expected. I wasn’t expecting Laura to be twelve when the story begun. I was expecting an older girl (mid to late teens) who was stronger in character (the copy I have doesn’t really give much of a blurb, but I like ‘old-timey’ stories and I thought it would be an interesting read). I think it was because of this that I found it hard and to get into and somewhat draining at first. It contains a lot of metaphors and similes that I don’t think are all necessary (although would give you a lot to write about in an English essay!!). I think this is one of those books that’s really going to take a few days to settle in after you’ve read it.
Nonetheless, as you get into it more it becomes a roller-coaster of events and emotions and you can’t help but wonder what will happen next. What struck me most about this story is that it does hit home with some harsh truths and hurts. This is a story about a girl who is in many ways still very childlike and struggles to deal with being herself and letting her own thoughts, opinions and personality shine through whilst also trying to be someone who she thinks her classmates want her to be in order to fit in and form friendships. It’s that struggle to belong, to feel excepted, to want people to like you – something I think all of us have been able to relate to at some stage in our lives – whether its been at school, college, work, in a relationship or even with our family. It also has that deeper meaning of struggling to find ones place and confidence in the world – something which even in my mid twenties I’m still struggling to do!
There were many times that I though ‘how can people be like that?! how could they act in that way and why would they say those things?’ but although it was written in difference time to what we live in now I think its a case of, people will be people and that is partly due to people being moulded around the context which surrounds them. There’s a particular incident which Laura brings upon herself that although I can understand why, I couldn’t understand why and how she could do it and let it get so out of hand! For me these things were slightly frustrating, although it was hard not to feel her sadness. In addition, I did not find the ending purely satisfying. It was slightly rushed in comparison to the rest of the story and I don’t think there was really that moment of ‘enlightenment’ that I had expected.
Although I don’t think Laura is one of those heroines that will ever be well loved and admired, I do think that the story touches of many aspects of everyday life. There are many aspects of the novel itself and its underlying tones that readers will find very relateable. I think the story serves well as an inspiration and reminder to many (particularly young people) that if you make a mistake or it seems like your world is caving in, that doesn’t necessarily mean your a bad person and you can take comfort knowing that time will pass and you can get through it.