After thirty-five years in a London office, Dorothy Peabody is still a junior typist. This dutiful, unattractive, maiden daughter, past fifty, is unfulfilled spiritually, emotionally, and sexually. Encouraged by Diana Hopewell’s fibs, she imagines the writer to be everything that she is not. Her motivation is in part infatuation: “Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, would be a tall woman graceful and shapely about the neck and breast.” Stunned that the novelist pays her any attention, and intent upon her novel’s vitality, Miss Peabody fails to notice that Diana Hopewell’s writing is latently pornographic.
Diana Hopewell is a writer of atypical drawing-room romances. She is, at least as she paints herself, in every way unlike Miss Peabody. The writer’s name denotes her optimism, while “Peabody” suggests insignificance. Hopewell paints herself in her letters as both a well-traveled, educated woman and a rugged lover of the outdoors. She talks of burning off paddocks and plowing fire breaks. All this is, it turns out, a fiction. When Miss Peabody arrives in Australia, she is told that her freshly dead heroine was paralyzed in a riding accident many years before and was emotionally crippled by an event she held secret. Diana Hopewell’s character, as distinct from her life’s true circumstances, is revealed by the sexual suggestiveness of her work, which she commits to paper in outlandish handwriting that is color-coded by character.
(The entire section is 554 words.)