Picks and Pans Review: The Getting of Wisdom

updated 11/23/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1981 01:00AM

by Henry Handel Richardson

Henry Handel Richardson, an early-20th-century Australian author, was actually a woman who, like George Eliot, took on a man's pen name in order to escape prejudice. With the reissue of her book—in an enterprising paperback series of previously obscure works by 19th-and 20th-century female writers—Richardson may finally get the attention she deserves, without hiding her sex. This loosely autobiographical novel, like the movie it inspired last year, centers around an imaginative misfit who struggles for approval at a proper Australian boarding school. She experiences many adolescent traumas that recur in adult nightmares: She contracts amnesia at her final exams and suffers humiliation when caught lying to her friends. But she is not so much a liar as a storyteller who wants to describe "a trifle in many words, so that in the end it seemed ever so much bigger than it really was." Though Richardson's book sometimes falters, the general effect of the crisp, deft writing is to offer Untrilling wisdom that has not lost its impact in 70 years. (Dell, $5.95)

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