The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

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Student Task 1 - Reading and the Study of Texts - The Getting of
Wisdom ( Henry Handel Richardson)

1) This novel is set in the early twentieth century. Identify and
discuss two ways in which the manners and behaviour of Laura's time
differ from what is acceptable today.

When Marina (Laura's Godmother's younger daughter) called for Laura at
the College on a particular Saturday morning, they set off into town
to visit a 'co-operative grocery store' (pg. 65), wherein an order for
a quarter's supplies was to be given. During this time, Marina, who
'was her mothers housekeeper, and had an incredibly knowledge of
groceries, as well as a severely practical mind' (pg. 65), took her
time sampling the products she was considering purchasing - indeed,
she 'stuck her fingernail into butter, tasted cheeses off the blade,
ran her hands through currants, (and) nibbled biscuits' (pg 65). This
sort of behaviour would be, and in fact generally is, sternly
forbidden in society - health regulations are somewhat strict
regarding consumerables in this day and age.

Teachers in Laura's time generally demanded a considerable degree of
respect, and this attitude has on the whole been carried through to
today's era. However, it can be noted that this was not always the
case. Maria - an older 'chum' of Laura's who possessed a very
attractive figure and extrovert manner (Laura's mother deduced it to
be 'vulgar' {pg. 50}) - is an excellent example of this. Laura tells
of Maria's supposed 'expertise' in the male area, and how she could
'twist him (Monsieur Legros - the French master) around her little
finger' (pg. 128). She tells of the fact that all Maria needed to do
was 'pout her thick, red lips, or give a coquettish twist of her plump
figure, or ogle him with her fine, bold, blue eyes, and the difficult
questions in the lesson were sure to pass her by once she even got ten
extra marks added to an examination paper, in this easy fashion' (pg
128-9). This type of behaviour would never be allowed in the
classrooms of today - primarily because there is too much riding on
academic achievement in the education system of our time.

Receiving credit where it is not due in such cases does not get a
student anywhere nowadays - the true standard must be set. The role of
women has changed dramatically over the last century; they now
generally need to, and are expected/preferred to be able to get out
there and earn a living and doing so by achieving academic merit is
the most common method of reaching this goal.

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2) What have you learnt about Laura's personality from these {first
fifteen} chapters?

Laura's personality takes a few twists and turns throughout these
chapters. Before she arrived at the college, she was assertive,
headstrong, passionate, impulsive, possessed a will to learn and a
'natural buoyancy of spirit' (pg 8). She had a fairly proud air about
her, and was generally fairly selfish, with the odd exception -
"Mother should see that she did know how to give up something she
cared for, and was not as selfish as she was supposed to be". She
enjoyed being the centre of attention, and was dubbed by Sarah as
being 'a bit too clever' (pg 16). However, she was not without heart,
and had a sensitive side that she tried desperately to conceal at all
costs, lest it befall her.

Upon her arrival at the College, she was forced to quench many of her
characteristics. Her impulsive and assertive behaviour resulted in her
being crushed and humiliated, and, subsequently, she became very
defensive, and lost much of her said optimism.

She was very aware of her assumed inadequacy, and was constantly
distraught over its consequences. However, once she gained confidence
and became somewhat socially accepted due to her 'good birth and
aristocratic appearance' (pg 95-6), she began to assume the right to
look down her nose at people (so to speak). She became impatient,
haughty and ungracious with peers she did not particularly like who
tried to be amiable (Chinky being the best example) - a trait that she
had always freely exercised with her sister Pin - however this was
usually a result of her hitting out at the handiest person due to some
emotional shortcoming.

Overall you would have to dub Laura Tweedle Rambotham as indeed having
a fairly selfish attitude, however it can be gleaned that the girl is
good at heart - she simply fell subject to the unfortunate event of
being pushed into a corner by her peers, and thus having to conform to
some extent in order to 'survive'. Laura does by no means ever conform
to any ideals that she firmly objects to, with her rejection of the
'goal for women' - marriage - being a perfect example, however her
intense desire to please those she desired acceptance from - 'for the
desire to please, to be liked by all the world, was the strongest her
young soul knew' (pg 34) - is a prominent feature of her person, and
one that was also cause of much of subsequent anguish.

3) How does Laura imagine she will be received at her new school?
Outline what Laura envisioned before she reached the school, and then
the reality of what actually occurred.

This is a very interesting passage that reveals just how naïve and
myopically wrought Laura was before she entered the College. On the
journey over, she envisioned 'for the hundredth time, the new life
towards which she was journeying, and, as always, in the brightest
colours' (pg 25). She imagined that she would be received with
admiration and awe in a stately setting, and that she would
acknowledge her new companions with 'an easy grace and an appropriate
word' (pg 24). They would not chide her for her dress - rather, they
would ascertain that she wore her clothes with a certain elegance that
'made up for their shortcomings' (pg 25). They would stand amazed at
her cleverness and charisma, and she would form a kind of eternal
friendship with one of her admirers that would be 'the wonder of all
who saw it' (pg 25).

Laura's only preoccupation was obviously that she would be accepted
and liked at her new school - a fixation that contrasted vastly to the
manner in which she was indeed received. Indeed, her first experience
of social interaction entailed being scorchingly rebuked by the
headmistress, as well as being sassed by the first fellow student she
lay eyes on; 'she (Lilith Gordon) put out her tongue, and said: "Now
then, goggle-eyes, what have you got to stare at?" Initially, 'no one
took any notice of her, except to stare' (pg 40), and she felt
'forlornly miserable under the fire of all these unkind eyes, who took
a delight in marking her slips' (pg 40). Her clothes were widely
acknowledged as being gaudily inadequate, and her surroundings, while
not open to a large amount of scrutiny, were certainly not grand and
luxurious - 'the afternoon sun, beating in, displayed a shabby patch
on the carpet. It showed up, too, a coating of dust that had gathered
on the desk-like, central table.' (pg 30) In the lowest class 'she sat
bottom, for a week or more' (pg 59), and for over a month she was 'a
listless and unsuccessful pupil' (pg 64). Her visions of comradery
were soon shattered, and the friendships that she did manage to strike
up were shaky and certainly not to be envied. She was regarded as
socially dubious and 'the greatest little oddity' (pg 57) the College
had seen for quite some time; here she was certainly not the assertive
and reputable Wondrous Fair.

However, it is interesting to note that after some time, Laura was
socially accepted 'by even the most exclusive' (pg 95), despite 'her
niggardly allowance, (and) her ridiculous clothes' (pg 95), because of
her assumed race - 'loud as money made itself in this young community,
effectual as it was in cloaking shortcomings, it did not go all the
way; inherited instincts and traditions were not so easily subdued'
(pg 95). This is a good example of the girls' generally myopic view on

4) When Laura meets her fellow boarders, she is subjected to a barrage
of questions from the other girls. What do the various questions
reveal about the girls' views on life?

The questions fired at the bewildered Laura revealed, in its most
basic form, that the girl's believed that financial status was what
gave you social acceptability. This said appropriateness was most
often contained within the brief, but weighty question - 'What's your
father (do for a living)?' If the inevitable response did not signify
that the unfortunate pater made a considerable living from a civilised
profession, then the burdened daughter was considered as having very
low social eminence, and vice-versa. For everything was associated
with what your father did - how much money you 'brought in' per year,
the number of servants you kept, and the clothes you wore. What is
being shown is a classic case of 'judging a book by its cover' - the
girls are not concerned with whether or not you are a nice person with
a good heart and soul. It reveals that the girls believe that such
material attributes is what will get them through the ranks in life -
a very shallow outlook that is extremely hard to overturn.
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