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Comparative Analysis

Comparative Analysis

The Getting of Wisdom” by Henry Handel Richardson & “A Difficult Young Man” by Martin Boyd


Considering the two novels, writers have focused on the question of adolescence and truth during the life experiences of young people. The Getting of Wisdom is Richardson’s most unique novel based on the school life experience of Laura who is the main character. This author has utilized her simplicity to reveal the challenges of female body and mind through narration. The Getting of Wisdom is divided into two parts; Bilgungsroman which is the first part of the novel and popular romance, the second pafrt of the novel.

On the contrary, A Difficult Young Man is Boyd’s work that has gained its prominence in the use of Anglo-Australian families. Martin Boyd uses fictitious characters like Dominic to bring out his personal family experience in the event of raising young people. Common to the two novels is that writers explore challenges experiences faced by young people in coping up with social changes during their adolescence stage. However, as opposed to Richardson who uses a female character as the main protagonist, Boyd focuses on male fictional characters. This paper will look at adolescence as explored in the novels. The Getting of Wisdom and A Difficult Young Man. The question of truth will also be of concern to discover how these writers differ in their presentation of this fact.

Adolescence in the Two Texts

A close study of the two books reveals that the growth of young people in the society is eminently affected by what surrounds them. Richardson has achieved this through Laura’s school experience as an adolescent. During Laura’s early stages in school, she demanded for dresses that her colleagues were wearing despite her body structure limiting her from such outfits. Her mother says, “You don’t need stays. … Your own muscles are quite strong enough to bear the weight of your back.” Laura’s desire was propelled by peer pressure as she observed her colleagues at school. She hence wanted to look exactly like them. This is well illustrated in the letter that Laura wrote back home despite of her being in school only for a short period of time. She says, “Lilith Gordon is a girl in my class, she is in my class and she is only as old as me and she wears stays and has a beautiful figure. All the Girls wear stays. Please send me some; I have no waste (Richardson, 1978, pg.49)”. Apparently this is a clear show of how adolescents get influenced to demand beyond their bounds based on what their fellow young people do.

On the other hand, A Difficult Young Man is an Australian novel written by Martin Boyd that focuses on the late adolescence and early adulthood life of growing young people. As opposed to the Getting of Wisdom which uses a girl’s school life experience, A Difficult Young Man uses the events of family experiences of parents bringing up their children. The central character in this book is Dominic who is the eldest son of Steven and Laura Langton. Dominic is on symbolic character on which the title of the novel is based. When the book unveils its themes on adolescence and truth; Dominic is faced with challenges of messing up with virtually everything he lays his hands on. This was as a result of other people’s influence of Dominic’s life. It is noted that, “there were certain people who appeared to have a definite effect on the course of Dominic’s life…yet it had repercussion upon Dominic (Boyd, 1986, pg.12.

Concurrently, when Richardson narrates Laura’s predicaments in school, she brings out pressure felt by female writers in Australia. Most of Australian female writers have faced criticism in their literary work based on gender discrimination (Richardson, 1978, pg.157). As a result of this, readers are able to understand forces forged against acquisition of knowledge or wisdom by female artists. In school, Laura struggles to acquire aesthetic knowledge as much as possible. This is however makes little sense about her future reality revealed at the end of the novel. We are told, “But this, the future still securely hid from her She went out from school with the uncomfortable sense of being a square peg, which fitted into none of the round holes of her world; the wisdom she had got, the experience she was richer by, had, in the process of equipping her for life, merely seemed to disclose her unfitness (Richardson, 1978, pg. 233)

On the other hand, romance as a central theme discussed in both novels is another area that affects adolescents as they attempt to explore their love-life. At one point, there is always a role model amongst the entire group that sets the scene from interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. A close examination of The Getting of Wisdom, the novel uses a romantic fantasy in which case the main character is a princess (Laura) meeting her prince (Mr. Shepherd). It is later evidenced in the book that Laura falls in love with Mr. Shepherd following the influence of her colleagues. Through fiction coined tactfully by the writer, elements of self consciousness and skepticism are revealed. The vast majority of the novel expands the fictitious story telling through the popular romance of the nineteenth century.

The Getting of Wisdom has paralleled Richardson’s early life experience at the Lord Ashby School with Laura’s. Laura suffers consequences in the event that she tries to seek for knowledge when she struggles to look like the rest of her classmates. The Getting of Wisdom exposes boundaries that exist during a girl’s development which are separated to a smaller extent by home environment as well as school experience. These boundaries are surrounded by her lover, Mr. Shepherd, to the extent that usual and desirable female development is stratified by the overriding conventions of love and marriage.

Notably, authors have used unique settings to present the predicaments that their characters undergo. In A Difficult Young Man, the family is always on the move from Australia to England to regain its position in society before getting back to Australia. This is one of the reasons why Dominic finds it difficult to cope with diverse societies as social values are the main challenge. The novel reveals that the environment plays an imperative role in shaping the youth. When the family gets back to Australia to meet aunty Baba, truth dawns on Dominic that indeed he can no longer be regarded as a child. He is expected to understand issues of love from an adult point of view.

For the purpose of clearly outlining issues in early adulthood as well as late adolescence, a number of domestic conflicts have been utilized (Niall, 2002, pg. 50). Central to these conflicts is Dominic who finds it had to cope with values in the societies that he lives in. In many ways though, the book is just as much about Guy who, through the process, of narration works to find a balance between unchanged effects of young minds and the setting in of adult knowledge. The most profound conflict in the novel arises between Dominic and Aunt Baba who has a different perception about any individual indicating kindness that is not profitable. She feels such people are silly and yet this is what Dominic has been showing to members of the society. This implies that adolescent may find it reasonable to do things out of pleasing the crowd yet it is a waste of time. We are told, “The bright babel of criticism broke out…whenever he tried to do kindness it landed him in some degree of trouble…” (Boyd, 1986, pg.14).

Found in the two novels is the fact that they deal with problems that adolescence face during their developmental stage especially sexuality. This is something that has always been overlooked by most contemporary writer although it appeals to be the truth about what affects the society during different developmental stages. A deeper analysis of the two novels reveals that society has to pay keen interest on realities of life so that young people do not conflict with social values during their growth. Dominic’s younger brothers at some point are jealous of him since he is the only person allowed to seat at the same table with grown-up people of the family. In spite of this, the main character feels unease associating with the rest of the people at the table. He still wants to associate with the younger group of people. We are informed in the book that “Dominic, the only one of us allowed at the grown-up table, was seated opposite Baba (Boyd, 1986, pg.12)”. Although he has the opportunity to feel fully grown up, he can’t imagine the changes in responsibility.

Similarly, in an attempt for Laura in The Getting of Wisdom to be in line with the conventional mould of acceptable feminism, it is usual, compulsory and necessary that she has to fall in love with Mr. Shepherd. The writer has used Laura at this level to present the question of truth and what actually happens to the adolescents in the midst of their peers. This did not come as a natural thing to her though: it was to accomplish the mass desire from the rest of her colleagues. It was common that at least someone had to be loved: peer pressure among adolescents. It is said, “Since, however, it seemed that someone had to be loved, if you were to be able to hold up your head with the rest, then it was easier, infinitely easier, to love the curate (Richardson, 1978, pg.138)”. She is as well faced with the problem of making a wise decision when faced with choices. For instance, she has a challenge in the manner in which she will figure out her weekend while at the Shepherds’. This is because of the romance fiction that readers expect in which case it turns out to be truth to life experiences. She is expected to understand what is important within the bounds of love relationships and not move with the rest of students in fulfilling body pleasure.

On the basis of truth within the text, Richardson has focused her work through the title of the book that alludes to the biblical proverb of “The Getting of Wisdom”. The novel has an ironical underscoring of the process Laura’s education. Based on this, there is of course Laura’s major fantasy about Mr. Shepherd whereby she has managed ephemerally to put together romance and truth to a greater extent. At this point, a reader finds that foundation for the surface wisdom that Laura eventually learns about the link between truth and fiction. Truth as a theme in this book has similarly been revealed in the fairy tale setting of the main characters predicaments and her literal location in the Edenic garden of her home. This accentuates the books fictionality laying down a foundation for the difference between fairy tale and reality or truth for that matter.


Both The Getting of Wisdom and A Difficult Young Man are novels by Australian writers that truly depict challenges faced by adolescent. The comparative analysis has surveyed adolescence conflicts in The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Richardson. In the course of the analysis, it was noted that adolescents undergo transformation following peer pressure from their colleagues. This peer pressure has ultimately turned out to be truth to life developmental stages. For instance in The Getting of Wisdom, Laura decided to fall in love with Mr. Shepherds not because she had attained the emotional ability to do so but because everybody around her was falling in love.

At school in which she had stayed for a very short time, she writes a letter home pressing for extra needs just because her friends and classmates were having them. In A Difficult Young Man, Dominic is faced with a wide range of challenges in making things right based on his surrounding due to adolescence. Similarities have been found in the setting of the two books that were narrated in two places.


Boyd, M. (1986). A Difficult Young Man. New York: Penguin.

Niall, B. (1988). Martin Boyd: a life. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Niall, B. (2002). The Boyd’s. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press.

Richardson, H. (1978).The Getting Of Wisdom. London: Heinemann publishers.