Picnic at Hanging Rock (novel)

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Picnic at Hanging Rock
Picnicathangingrock.png
First-edition cover
Author Joan Lindsay
Country Australia
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher F. W. Cheshire
Penguin (re-print)
Publication date
1967
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 212 (first printing)
ISBN NA & reissue ISBN 0-670-81828-3 (1987 Viking ed.)

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a 1967 historical novel by Joan Lindsay. The plot focuses on a group of female students at an Australian women's college in 1900 who inexplicably vanish at the site of an enormous rock formation while on a Valentine's Day picnic, and also explores the outlying effects the girls' disappearance has on the community. The novel has been oft discussed and debated due to its inexorably ambiguous ending.

Lindsay wrote the novel over a four-week period[1] at her home Mulberry Hill in Baxter, on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. It was first published in 1967 in Australia by Cheshire Publishing and was released in paperback by Penguin in 1970.

The rock formation featured in the story, Hanging Rock, is an actual geological formation located in Victoria, Australia. The novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 1975 by director Peter Weir.

Synopsis[edit]

The Hanging Rock formation has fascinated visitors for generations. This painting by William Ford was made in 1875.

Picnic at Hanging Rock centers around a trip by a party of girls from Appleyard College, a fictitious upper class private boarding school, who travel to Hanging Rock in the Mount Macedon area, Victoria, for a picnic on St. Valentine's Day in 1900. The excursion ends in tragedy when three of the girls, and later one of their teachers, mysteriously vanish while climbing the rock. No reason for their disappearance is ever given, and one of the missing girls who is later found has no memory of what has happened to her companions. A fourth girl who also climbed the rock with the group is of little help in solving the mystery, having returned in hysterics for reasons she cannot explain.

The disappearances provoke much local concern and international sensation with sexual molestation, abduction and murder being high on the list of possible outcomes. Several organized searches of the picnic grounds and the area surrounding the rock itself turn up nothing. Meanwhile the students, teachers and staff of the college, as well as members of the community, grapple with the riddle-like events. A young man on a private search locates one of the missing girls, but is himself found in an unexplained daze – yet another victim of the rock. Concerned parents begin withdrawing their daughters from the formerly prestigious college and several of the staff, including the headmistress, either resign or meet with tragic ends. We are told that both the College, and the Woodend Police Station where records of the investigation were kept, are destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.

Interpretations[edit]

The unsolvable mystery of the disappearances was arguably the key to the success of both the book and the subsequent film. This aroused enough lasting public interest that in 1980 a book of hypothetical solutions (by Yvonne Rousseau) was published, called The Murders at Hanging Rock.[2]

The novel is written in the form of a true story, and even begins and ends with a pseudo-historical prologue and epilogue, adding to the overall feeling of mystery. However, while the geological feature, Hanging Rock, and the several towns mentioned are actual places near Mount Macedon, the story is not completely true. Lindsay had done little to dispel the myth that the story is based on truth, in many interviews either refusing to confirm it was entirely fiction, or hinting that parts of the book were fictitious, and others were not. Valentine's Day, 14 February 1900 was a Wednesday, not a Saturday as depicted in the story. All attempts by enthusiastic readers to find historical evidence of the event, characters, or even Appleyard College, have proved fruitless.

Appleyard College was to some extent based on Clyde Girls' Grammar School at East St Kilda, Melbourne, which Joan Lindsay attended as a day-girl while in her teens. Incidentally, in 1919 this school was transferred to the town of Woodend, Victoria, about 8 km southwest of Hanging Rock.[3] The book suggests that the fictional site of Appleyard College, given its eastward view of Mount Macedon on the Bendigo-Melbourne Road, might have been on the western side of Calder Highway/Black Forest Drive (C792), about 2–4 km south of Woodend.

Excised final chapter[edit]

According to her editor, Lindsay's original draft of the novel included a final chapter in which the mystery was resolved. At her editor's suggestion, Lindsay is said to have removed it prior to publication. Chapter Eighteen, as it is known, was published posthumously in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock by Angus & Robertson Publishing.[4]

In this chapter, each of the girls begins to experience dizziness and feel as if they are "being pulled from the inside out"; they then throw their corsets from the top of the cliff, but instead of falling, the corsets stand still in mid-air. The girls then encounter what is described as "a hole in space", by which they physically enter a crack in the rock. The suspension of the corsets and description of the hole in space suggest that the girls perhaps encountered some sort of time warp, which is compatible with Lindsay's fascination with and emphasis on clocks and time in the novel.

Adaptations[edit]

Film[edit]

The first film adaptation of the book was a short by Tony Ingram, a fourteen-year-old filmmaker, who got permission from Joan Lindsay to adapt her book as The Day of Saint Valentine. However, only about ten minutes of footage was filmed before the rights were optioned to Peter Weir for his more famous feature-length version, and the production was permanently shelved. The completed footage is included on some DVD releases of Weir's film.[5]

The feature film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock premiered at the Hindley Cinema Complex in Adelaide on 8 August 1975. It became an early film of the Australian New Wave and is arguably Australia's first international hit film.[6]

Theater[edit]

Picnic at Hanging Rock was adapted by playwright Laura Annawyn Shamas in 1987 and published by Dramatic Publishing Company. Subsequently, it has had many productions in the US, Canada, and Australia. There have also been musical adaptations of the novel.

A stage-musical adaptation, with book, music, and lyrics by Daniel Zaitchik, was scheduled to open in New York City in the fall of 2012.[7] The musical received a 2007 staged reading at New York's Lincoln Center,[8] and further workshop development at the 2009 O'Neill Theater Center National Music Theater Conference.[9] The musical had its world premiere on February 28th 2014 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah under the direction of Jim Christian. The cast included Amelia Moore, Jenessa Bowen, Casey Greenwood, Kacee Neff, Shae Wilson, Erin Crouch, Bailee DeYoung, Katie Jones, MeiLee Ballard, Emily Wells, Mandie Harris, Alice Gittins, Amanda Shaffer, Jason Baldwin, Nate Waite, Aaron Ross, Brittany Wood and Clayton Porter.[10]

Radio[edit]

In 2010, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio adaptation.[11] The cast included Simon Burke, Penny Downie, Anna Skellern and Andi Snelling.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 'Hanging out for a mystery', Sydney Morning Herald (21 January 2007)
  2. ^ Rousseau, Y. (1980) The Murders at Hanging Rock. Scribe Publications, Fitzroy, Australia. ISBN 0-908011-02-4
  3. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography, entry for "Henderson, Isabella Thomson"
  4. ^ Lindsay, J. (1987) The Secret of Hanging Rock. Angus & Robertson, Australia. ISBN 0-207-15550-X
  5. ^ Hanging Rock Reserve tourist information page (viewed 12 April 2010)
  6. ^ IMDB (viewed 12 April 2010)
  7. ^ Horwitz, Jane (30 Aug 2011). "Backstage: Chatting with Brian MacDevitt, Tony-winning lighting designer". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  8. ^ "News". Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  9. ^ Gans, Andrew (15 Apr 2009). "Musicals Tales of the City and Picnic at Hanging Rock to Be Developed at O'Neill Theater Center.". playbill.com. Retrieved 29 Sep 2011. 
  10. ^ http://www.playbill.com/news/article/188209-World-Premiere-of-Daniel-Zaitchik-Musical-Picnic-at-Hanging-Rock-Debuts-in-Utah-Feb-28?tsrc=nx
  11. ^ Picnic at Hanging Rock

External links[edit]