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The Orchard

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  328 ratings  ·  42 reviews
How does a woman find the shape of her own life? How does she come into a maturity that is truly her own?

Taking the essay as 'a porous, conversational, sometimes moody creature' and combining it with fiction, The Orchard continues Drusilla Modjeska's inquiry into the histories of women overshadowed by the stories of men. Rich in character, it is a meditation on mid-life, w
Paperback, 268 pages
Published June 1st 1995 by Picador Australia (first published June 1st 1994)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Jim Fonseca
This is very much a woman’s book, or, more properly, a work of feminism, complete with footnote references to classic feminist texts. But it’s not an academic book at all; it’s a quite readable story of a middle-aged woman reflecting on her life.


The book is anchored in Virginia Woolf’s philosophy of education for women. Woolf, denied the formal education her brothers received, proposed education for women precisely like that our Australian narrator received at a British girls’ school. It seems
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
What a strange book to cross our threshold …. First off, I don’t even know what it is: novel, memoir, art history lesson, collection of essays, tell-all book, all of the above? I found not knowing very distracting. What else was distracting was trying to figure why my father-in-law thought it would be good for us to read. Did he even read it? I can’t imagine he would have gotten very far even if he had tried. But he would like to see a book report from both of us. Guess what? 😊

All that being sa
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
I've finally finished this book, thank goodness. It's put me in a massive reading slump. I can appreciate a lot of the messages it includes, but I really wasn't in the mood for this type of book right now. Having spent the past few days just reading this book I want to give it one star because of how little I enjoyed the experience, but I think if I hadn't been under so much time pressure to finish this book before I returned to school and read it in smaller chunks I would have enjoyed it far mo ...more
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, non-fic
I enjoyed it more than expected, especially the two short chapters book-ending the three main stories, as well as the first and third part. I really loved the way Modjeska used the fairytale, incorporating it as an allegory for all the other stories, also framing the feminist essays.

(note for e2. she didn't let the fairytale limit her story, only used it as a framing device)
Love the way it explores truth and identity and ideas about turning inwards and embracing solitude. I suspect this is a work that will hold great appeal for women. Loved the use of art history to explore female identity. Intelligent read that provokes introspection.
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Modjeska's writing on solitude as a means of internal transformation resonates with me at this time in my life. I think this is a book I needed to read. ...more
Karen (^ v ^)
2.5 stars? 2.75?
Idk, maybe I just can't appreciate classical literature but my god I really had to force myself to finish this one. The message of feminism came through loud and clear and for that I appreciated it, but the writing was very long winded. This was probably intentional but the narrative structure and POVs were all over the place and I really just could not keep up with which story was which and to be honest grew rather disinterested.

Great. Can't wait to disect this one in class.
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some aspects of this collection/set of interwoven stories and essays are a bit dated, but many other parts of it really hold up. Very thoughtful, and thought-provoking. There was something kind of magical about it!
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, thought provoking, and there were so many passages that made me stop and think.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-books
pretty good pretty good
Alberta Adji
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Modjeska's writing style evokes feelings and memories that strongly resonate with any woman's personal growth journey from girlhood to womanhood. ...more
Feb 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Literary feminism, dated in some contexts but still a good read for those who are a fan of the genre.
Gina Taranto
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A poignant reflection on the difficulty of realising one's self in a patriarchal world. ...more
Amanda Hale
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was fascinated by this book. It is unusual, filled with beautiful imagery and a very painterly theme. Hard to keep track of the characters, in fact I found it less character driven, and more philosophical. The sections are quite distinct though linked by a large cast of characters and an intellectual and emotional through-line. The section near the end titled The Winterbourne is the best and most evocative writing I have seen about boarding school. It took me back to my own boarding school day ...more
Oct 04, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very worthy. I feel very lucky that feminist issues don't apply to me personally. I have a satisfying career and an equal relationship with my husband who does more than half of the domestic duties and certainly doesn't have affairs. It is very well written though and I particularly enjoyed the description of the English boarding school. ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Lifted from a journal entry at the time I read this:

I picked up Drusilla Modjeska's The Orchard. I definitely didn't have the emotional maturity for this book when it was assigned to me. I found it interesting in places, but I remember being bored by 'The Adultery Factor' (part one). Now that part makes sense to me, but also the artifice of the whole book is clearer. I don't think I realised, when I read it, that it was fiction. That 'I' was not necessarily Modjeska. That her praise of Stella Bo
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I just love the way Drusilla Modjeska writes and I resonate with every word and most of her opinions. Reading Poppy years ago was a transforming experience for me and The Orchard is no less poignant, challenging, intriguing and intellectually stimulating.
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was surprisingly enjoyable. It was an obligatory read (for school) and considering my reservations toward non-fiction and the vague nature of the blurb (which consisted entirely of well deserved reviews) I was really skeptical. But, after 'The Verandah' the book picked up and it became a very interesting read about feminism and the credibility of the female voice in non-fiction. I also enjoyed the hybridity of the text; the autobiography/memoir/essay/fiction nature was very engaging (a ...more
Apr 05, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Orchard is a first person narrative about a group of women of varying ages with artist biography and an Eastern European legend thrown in. Reading the first two-thirds of it is painful. There's no clarity or structure and the narrative style is cloying. There are a few good feminist points but it mostly comes across as airy-fairy drivel like an advertisement for self-fulfillment through crystal-healing and astral travel.

Critics have noted the blending of fiction and reality. Unfortunately,
Modjeska's turn of phrase is beautiful. I like the device of interweaving 'story' with essays though it can make it difficult to either connect with the various characters or keep a sense of continuity going. At this stage the essays are more interesting than the story.

Loved the 'girl with the silver hands' story being mulled over and analysed in the light of lived experience over and over in both the fictional narrator's life and all the woman's lives of the book. All in all a wonderful read wi
Anthea Ramos
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Recommended by a friend, this book was a timely reminder for me on the virtues of solitude and self worth and best of all the changing nature of life. It was also a reminder that life long friends and blood ties will always be there and must be nutured. Adultery was also a theme in the book and it reminded me of the different perspectives men and women have on this subject. I loved the author's way of wending other literature into the story - there were a number of references to books I have rea ...more
Rebecca Hunt
I found this book extremely meandering to the point where, at times, I didn't know what the relevance of the narrative thread was. Modjeska is clearly an incredibly intelligent, well read, well versed on history woman. Within her works are incredible insights that make me forgive what I find to be tenuously threaded together narratives. While I didn't like this story, I got a lot out of reading the book. ...more
Susan Wight
This book sits somewhere between essay, memoir and non-fiction. Without a sustained narrative or non-fiction purpose, it languished on my reading pile for quite some time after I started it. It weaves together the stories of four self-reflective women of various ages. Topics include marriage, domination, sight, solitude, education and the plight of the intellectual woman.

I'm glad I persisted with it as there are moments of lyrical beauty and deep thought.
Still not really sure about this book, but I was certainly interested and engaged til the end. It is a number of stories about different women and the shape of their lives. The underpinning legend is about a woman who has her hands cut off by the devil and learns to live differently to accommodate her loss, and in doing so becomes more.
Nov 20, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-fiction, 2011
Interesting (at times confusing) combination of fiction and essay in story form. Which almost doesn't make sense and thusly seems to reflect the book. I'm sure I missed more than half of the point because I didn't want to make the effort to figure it out. Still interesting and skillful writing on the part of Modjeska...not sure who I would recommend this to though. ...more
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the characters in this book- 4 women presented as flawed but admirable, and their stories woven around a central european fairytale about a woman with silver hands.
Modjeska writes well about women- I've read another book of hers about female modern artists that was spot on, she's wonderful at writing about people so that they feel real.
I'd recommend it.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I can see that there was a richness to this book so maybe I wasn't in the right head space to give this the credit it was due. It slides between being a novel and a series of essays, is overtly philosophical and probably quite meaningful. I found the distinctive style wonderful at times as in the adultery section but at other times confusing and a little tedious. ...more
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my absolutely all-time favourite books. Every woman, young and old, should read it and pass it along to female friends. A brilliant commentary on "woman as artist" and killing the "angel in the house". ...more
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my absolute favorites. There is so much wisdom here and I keep reading it again and again. I have memorized some of my favorite quotes, but the stories always speak to me differently as I travel to different places in my life and heart.
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a few places, this book starts to sound more like a thesis paper than a novel, but overall it's beautiful. Full of memorable characters and complicated ideas about a woman's power, solitude, and what it means to be an artist. It really rocked my world when I was 18. ...more
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Drusilla Modjeska was born in England and lived in Papua New Guinea before arriving in Australia in 1971. She studied at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales completing a PhD which was published as Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945 (1981).

Modjeska's writing often explores the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. The best known of her work

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