Georgiana: woman of flowers
Libby Hathorn, Hachette, 2008, $17.99 AUD, pb, 298pp, 9780733609169
Georgiana Molloy and her husband, Captain John Molloy, were among the earliest settlers of the remote Augusta region in the colony Western Australia. The novel begins in 1839 at the time of their arrival in Western Australia. It finishes with Georgiana’s untimely death in 1843, following childbirth.
Running parallel to the story of Georgiana and her growing family is a fictitious tale of the poorer, less educated Summerfield family. The narrative is told in a lyrical, omniscient voice that shows the varied hopes and aspirations of each family. The stage is set for a compelling read when we learn that Will Summerfield, and his sister Charlotte, are living in fear of their mother’s second husband the brutal Thomas Summerfield. The lives of the two families are loosely interwoven and there is potential for the story to build to a satisfying climax that it never quite achieves.
Georgiana Molloy was a pious young woman and Libby Hathorn makes a concerted effort to reconcile the evangelistic fervour of Georgiana’s Christian faith with her, otherwise, gentle demeanour. There is reference to a book called Peace in Believing from which Georgiana is said to have derived considerable inspiration. We are not, however, given insight into what aspects of the text particularly affected her. It is therefore difficult to develop any empathy for her convictions.
This is a worthy novel. It portrays the struggles and triumphs of early settlers in Australia and their attitude towards the aboriginal peoples of the region. It also illustrates the significant contribution Georgiana Molloy made to the study of the region’s unique flora. The narrative had a strong biographical feel and would therefore be suitable for young adult readers who enjoy life history, rather than those who want a compelling story.