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.)