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Jolley, Elizabeth

novel author peabody miss

(British/Australian 1923– )

Although she didn't move to Australia until she was 36, Jolley regards herself and is generally thought of as an Australian writer. She writes about women who are loners or outsiders, often with wicked humour and sharp (verging on painful) insight. Begin with Miss Peabody's Inheritance (1983), a beautifully constructed comic novel in which Miss Peabody, a lonely English spinster with a dreary office job and a demanding invalid mother, writes to the author of her favourite novel. The author replies, in hilarious cliché-ridden letters describing her idyllic life on her cattle station, and enclosing chapters of her novel-in-progress, about the lesbian headmistress of a girls’ boarding-school. These three story-strands build to a surprising and satisfying climax as Miss Peabody gives up her job and goes to visit the author in Australia. Foxybaby (1984) describes Alma Porch's attempt to dramatize her unwritten novel at an appallingly run summer school creative drama class, where all the characters have conflicting agendas, and boundaries between real and imaginary blur. The George's Wife (1993) is darker, dealing with the memories of a young woman who is the secret lover of an older man—a man who is inseparable from his sister. Jolley's writing is so clear that you remember details of her novels as vividly as if they were your own life.

Barbara Pym, Alice Munro, Katherine Mansfield. See AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND  JR

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