Between Girls: Lateral Discipline in Henry Handel Richardson's The Getting of Wisdom

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Henry Handel Richardson’s representation of lateral discipline in her 1910 novel, The Getting of Wisdom, is significant for the way in which it makes visible the reorienting of disciplinary structures that took place as the private, domestic tuition of middle-class girls gave way to institutional, collective schooling in the last third of the nineteenth century. Focusing on this novel, which fictionalizes the author's own experience of Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies’ College from 1883 to 1887, this article considers her representation of girls as not just objects but agents of disciplinary action. I argue that in boarding school, novels such as Richardson’s discipline functions laterally, between peers, in ways that often reiterate the ‘vertical’ authority of parents and teachers but also contest it, moving into the space created by its failures or absences. Reading these novels thus requires a reorientation of our own theoretical models for thinking about discipline, in particular, the Foucauldian panopticon and his conception of the segmented space of the school, which do not allow for the kinds of sideways glances that proliferate across Richardson’s novel. The Getting of Wisdom thus provides the opportunity to theorize anew the role played by the peer group in shaping girls into social subjects, a role that was a cause for both celebration and concern by commentators of the time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242–260
Issue number254
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017

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