Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Miss Peabody’s Inheritance deftly but unexpectedly combines a portrait of the quiet, stale life of an unmarried English woman with the homoerotic adventures of a headmistress at an Australian girls’ boarding school. Dorothy Peabody, well into her fifties, has for thirty-five years worked inefficiently and unenthusiastically at a deadend typist job in London. Her boring routine is made even more tedious by the endless demands of her malingering, bedridden mother. The one thing that changes Miss Peabody’s life is her sending of a fan letter to the author of a romance novel. To Peabody’s surprise, the Australian author, Diana Hopewell, not only responds to the letter but also says that she loves the handwriting—is in love with the handwriting—and wants Peabody to write again. Thus begins the correspondence that accelerates in frequency and gives interest and purpose to Miss Peabody’s life.

Diana Hopewell’s letters are filled with scenes for the novel she is working on, a novel about Arabella Thorne, headmistress of Pine Heights boarding school for girls in western Australia. Thorne lives with her personal secretary, Miss Edgely, who had once interested her but who is now increasingly incompetent as a secretary and unwanted as a companion. Miss Thorne’s primary friend is Miss Snowdon, a matron at a nearby hospital, with whom she is likely to have water fights in the bathroom or quick interludes in the bedroom when Miss Edgely is gone. The three women have traveled together on...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Miss Peabody's Inheritance Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Elizabeth Jolley moved to western Australia from England in 1959 with her husband and three children, and since then she has become a major figure in Australian literature who is also both popular and respected in the United States and Great Britain. She has been awarded numerous literary prizes, including the Age Book of the Year Award in 1982 for Mr. Scobie’s Riddle, the New South Wales Premier’s Award for Fiction in 1985 for Milk and Honey, and one of the most prestigious of the Australian prizes, the Miles Franklin Award, in 1987 for The Well. Miss Peabody’s Inheritance was considered for the New South Wales Prize in 1984. Since the publication of her first novel in 1980, Jolley’s production of novels, short stories, dramas, and radio programs has been very prolific and of exceptionally high quality by any literary standards. Her fiction has been compared to that of writers as diverse as Barbara Pym, Flannery O’Connor, D. H. Lawrence, and Edgar Allan Poe, but she is unique and iconoclastic.

Jolley dubbed the 1980’s a moment of glory for the woman writer, and she is quick to support other women writers and to write about their work. She and others such as Helen Garner influence one another’s writing and work to establish a sense of community among Australian women writers. In a review of one of Garner’s books, Jolley writes that the function of the novelist is to increase awareness of human...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Miss Peabody's Inheritance Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Dibble, Brian, Don Grant, and Glen Phillips, eds. Celebrations: A Bicentennial Anthology of Fifty Years of Western Australian Poetry and Prose. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1988. Reprints “Clever and Pretty” from Jolley’s short story collection Woman in a Lampshade (1983) and in a short biographical commentary notes that Jolley is widely acclaimed in the United States and Great Britain as well as in Australia.

Ferrier, Carole, ed. Gender, Politics, and Fiction: Twentieth Century Australian Women’s Novels. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1986. A brief discussion of Jolley as one of the “older writers” in Australia in the article “Australian Women Novelists of the 1970’s: A Survey,” by Margaret Smith. The focus is mainly on Palomino (1980), to which Smith refers as one of the “three significant Australian lesbian novels” of the decade, although the lesbian relationship between an older and a younger woman is doomed from the start.

Kirby, Joan. “The Nights Belong to Elizabeth Jolley: Modernism and the Sappho-Erotic Imagination of Miss Peabody’s Inheritance.” Meanjin 43, no. 4 (December, 1984): 484-492. In this major critical essay on Jolley’s novels, Kirby praises Miss Peabody’s Inheritance as a great work by a female...

(The entire section is 427 words.)