Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Getting of Wisdom” as Want to Read:
The Getting of Wisdom
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Getting of Wisdom

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,430 ratings  ·  124 reviews
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, gende ...more
Paperback, 282 pages
Published June 30th 2002 by University of Queensland Press (first published 1910)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Getting of Wisdom, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Getting of Wisdom

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,430 ratings  ·  124 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Getting of Wisdom
I was not in the mood for this period piece, but it is such a good depiction of the times that it’s hard not to appreciate it. Laura is a feisty little girl, eldest daughter of a widowed mother who sews and embroiders to keep the family together and to send Laura to boarding school in Melbourne in the late 19th century.

The style and language may well appeal to lovers of Jane Austen and similar literature, but it’s not my first choice. She arrives at school, thinking she’s bright.

"These early w
Stef Rozitis
As I was reading the enchanting misadventures of the loveable (and irritating) scapegrace Laura I kept being struck with the impossibility of a male author having not only chosen this topic, but written such a sensitive account of a girl's attempts to relate to other girls in a female dominated setting (Bechdel test registers off the charts) so I googled "him". Yes...well...

The writing is great, there is an edge to it so that no matter how Laura goes from failure to failure- overimaginative, imp
Fiona MacDonald
"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding"

Although overall I found that this story went on rather longer than it needed, I was pleasantly surprised by the wit and prose of Henry Handel Richardson.
The story predominantly rests on Laura, a headstrong and imaginative child who is packed off to boarding school in Australia after her mother finds her too difficult to handle.
Here she meets a variety of girls from different backgrounds, some nice,
“Straightaway she set to work to sharpen her wits.”

I couldn’t help comparing this to Little Women, as if it was Amy March getting teased at school drawn out into a story of its own. There are stark differences, however. Richardson is being honest here. The way the girls act isn’t stereotypical; it’s detailed, and feels true. And this truth gives the story a subversive bent that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Here we see the young girl Laura becoming socially conscious and sexually aware. We see the rise a
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
I have had this book on my shelves for years.I am an inveterate purchaser of books and to my shame it can take me a long time to get around to doing the required reading.In this case the effort was not misplaced.
I always find it amazing that despite the sophistications of the modern age we still have the same underlying emotions as generations before us.
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A charming coming-of-age story from fin-de-siècle Australia. At her boarding school, teenager Laura Rambotham’s path is dotted with all the usual banana skins, and she slips on every one: the gaucheries, crushes, snobberies, snubs, fibs, passing phases of jealousy, despair and religious fervour, exam disasters. There are moments of exhilaration as well as of humiliation; for this flawed and vulnerable heroine, an Everygirl all too recognizable even today, life is a rollercoaster ride.

The novel a
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Laura is sent to a private girls' school in Melbourne for her education. Her mother is adamant that this will happen even though they struggle financially. She believes it is the best way:

"To a State school, I've always said it, my children shall never go - not if I have to beg the money to send them elsewhere."

The Getting of Wisdom was published in 1910 and we still have this kind of conversation about private versus public education today.

Laura is thrown in with the lions immediately, her Cous
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know a great deal about Ethel Richardson – who adopted a male pseudonym when she wrote – but I do know that this story, the story of an Australian girl sent to boarding school, is said to be autobiographical, and, if that is the case, I suspect that I would like her very much.

The book dates from 1910, but the story that it tells could easily have happened years earlier or years later.

I loved twelve- year old Laura Rambotham. At home she was a benevolent queen, ruling over her younger sib
Mar 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, audio-book
I have a hard time believing this was written by a man. Come on! H.H. Richardson has to be a pseudonym! Really amazing insight into a young girl's struggles to fit in - something I could relate to so closely in parts...I was very impressed with the author's grasp of the cruelty in female relationships. For anyone who grew up too poor to be fashionable, or who had parents too loud, or was embarrassingly back-country for the school sophisticates - this book will seem like it's about you. I was ama ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Hilarious and subversive. Laura's character and morals are corrupted as she struggles (and fails) to become what society expects from her.

I love HG Wells' description of Laura as 'an adorable little beast'. Though she is more a series of young girls, each focussing on a particular girlish folly (falling insanely in love with your roomate, lying to make people like you, being ashamed of your family...), than a real person, Laura's character is charming and horribly likeable.

The Getting of Wisdo
Trigger warnings: bullying, racism. I think that's all?

I had no idea this was a female author writing under a male pseudonym, or that it was inspired by Richardson's own experiences. But that certainly explains why the picture of private girls schools rings so accurate, even today.

I liked the writing and I liked Laura as a protagonist. But this felt more like a series of vignettes than a coherent story. Add in some casual racism - it's a classic, but STILL - and unfortunately I didn't like thi
Karen ⊰✿
This is a classic coming-of-age story, but is based in a girls boarding school and demonstrates the "unwritten rules" of high school and how cruel kids in school can be ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed by this book. Firstly, I thought it was something completely different for some reason. When I realised I had inadvertently stumbled upon a Melbourne period coming of age about a country girl learning about life in a city school, I was quite interested. Mainly because I love coming of age stories, but also because this was my first Australian novel written over a hundred years ago. But this excitement was soon dispelled.
There are a few good things about the work. The way it su
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. I loved the ending!
Mel 📚
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
There's something completely timeless about a coming of age school story. The innocuous beginnings of fitting in, the challenges of growing up, the daunting task of facing life's expectations.

The Getting of Wisdom is a little different. Unlike Jane Eyre or even Amy March, Laura never quite fits in. She never loses her innate creativity. She doesn't fall prey to the path of teacher or wife that so many female protagonists of the mid to late 1800's do. She remains solely her own, she clutches her
Yvette Adams
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm really surprised so many people have given this book such a good review and rating. I didn't like it at all! None of the characters were at all likeable. The main character didn't become any more likeable as the book ended. Did she ever gain any wisdom? If she did, I couldn't tell!

I don't recommend this at all.
Kali Napier
Feb 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aww2019
While I can see how this is a classic of Australian literature, providing insights into upper middle class colonial life around the turn of the century, and in particular the experience of girlhood at a boarding school, it is really difficult to read historical contemporary novels that use racist terminology unconsciously. I guess because it is confronting what was such commonplace language at which no one would bat an eyelid. It makes me wonder if I prefer historical fiction because it gives a ...more
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Setting: Melbourne, Australia; 1880's. Laura Rambotham is sent to a prestigious Melbourne boarding school at the age of 12 - fatherless, poor and from a small country town, Laura is ill-equipped from the outset to survive in these hallowed surroundings and, bewildered by the strict unwritten code of behaviour favoured by her peers, struggles gamely to fit in, with results sometimes humorous but more often devastatingly sad for Laura. As the years progress, Laura learns how to deal with life and ...more
Jun 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Beautiful and full characterizations, a story that charmingly translates the heightened stakes of new experience as a teen. The first half went by a little slowly, but the back half picked up speed.
This felt, to me, almost like a mix of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett with the relationships and lessons of young girls and Persuasion by Jane Austen with the concern for society and perception, and like both of these references, a heavy theme of class distinction.
I like the detail of L
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-2020
I went into this with high expectations, and most of them were fulfilled.
I loved the main character, how she had so many different sides to her and was definitely not perfect. She got into all kinds of mischief and I think there was something in her that everyone could relate to. I really loved the descriptions and change in attitudes towards the school and going away from school as she went, so that she always looked forward to the change. I'm not giving this five stars because although I enjo
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gosh I loved this book. This is no romanticised bildungsroman. My take away was feisty feminists have existed in every time and space, and more has stayed the same than has changed, which I wasn't expecting. The author succeeds at speaking from the voice of a very young teen and it feeling so authentic it reminds me of inner life memories and immature behavioural choices I had long since forgotten. But in a cathartic way, not unpleasantly. ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-study
tolerable for a novel study. i'm surprised i was quite entertained by a rather simple plot, and the writing was very elegant, so kudos to the author. ...more
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Review to come
Clare Snow
Laura's a hateful little thing. Now she's got her wisdom, she could do with some growing up. ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aww, 2015
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 Presbyt
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Laura is immature and a daydreamer, but what she doesn't realize is that she's also poor and unaccustomed to the habits of people outside her own family. When she's sent to boarding school, she has a terrible time. Her clothing is sadly out-of-date, she is not aware of what's considered appropriate fodder for discussion and what's taboo, and she doesn't know how to treat her elders. She's also woefully behind in her schooling.

I think I liked The Getting of Wisdom mostly for its sense of ti
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I adore this story!

I first read it as a teenager and a lot of it went over my head, and I can understand how the writing style might not grab the attention of teens. However over the last 40 years I've returned to it many times and I often notice new things in the story - like how subtly comic it is for instance. Or the way the style of speech changes according to who is talking, and reflects the different characters. The speech used by the private schoolboy cousin of Tilly is really amusing fo
I want to compare this to Bilgewater by Jane Gardam because both are coming of age stories of young women in boarding schools. But it would be unfair to both authors and stories to do so. B had a protagonist confident in her intelligence, blooming in beauty unknown to her and pained by the cruelties of life in school when you're different, and she makes no attempt to conform. Conversely, Laura is not confident in anything and desperate to be liked. You already know she fails, and spectacularly t ...more
Margaret Sharp
Despite its being published more than a hundred years ago, the central theme of this book: that of the effects of peer pressure: is still very relevant in today's society.
Essentially, this is a compelling volume about an intelligent, sensitive girl's initiation into a society populated by self-seeking, egotistic individuals.
Laura, a country girl, is sent to a boarding where (social) class consciousness is of paramount significance. Her own temperament and upbringing make her a target. Ultimately
Laura Rittenhouse
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great coming of age book. Laura, our heroine, is sent off to boarding school in Melbourne in the early 1900s. Her family has little money and her peers all seem rich and glamorous. Laura finds herself struggling to fit in and weaves a web of lies to gain status. She's too smart and too ambitious to ever be perfectly comfortable either in or out of the cliques in her school.

As much as a coming of age story, this is a book about fitting in, our desire to belong and what lengths we shoul
« previous 1 3 4 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • My Brilliant Career
  • Lucky's
  • There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job
  • Other People's Houses
  • Monkey Grip
  • Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
  • Highway Bodies
  • Love Yourself: Self-Acceptance and Depression
  • Invitation to the Waltz
  • The Survivors
  • To the Islands
  • Le deuxième sexe, I
  • Un roman français
  • Zazie in the Metro
  • 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
  • We Were Not Men
  • Infinite Splendours
  • 45 + 47 Stella Street And Everything That Happened (Stella Street, #1)
See similar books…
Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson's use of a pen-name, adopted for mixed motives, probably militated against recognition especially when feminist literary history began. Maurice Guest was highly praised in Germany when it first appeared in translation in 1912, but received a bad press in England, though it influenced other novelists. The publishers bowdlerized the language for the second imprint. ...more

News & Interviews

The weather’s getting cooler—here in the northern hemisphere, anyway—and that means time is running out for participants in this year’s...
281 likes · 266 comments
“After all, there was something rather pleasant in knowing that you were misunderstood. It made you feel different from everyone else.” 16 likes
“Laura began to model herself more and more on those around her; to grasp that the unpardonable sin is to vary from the common mould.” 2 likes
More quotes…