Jessica (novel)

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Jessica novel cover.jpg
First edition
Author Bryce Courtenay
Country Australia
Language English
Publisher Viking Australia
Publication date
1 December 1998
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 395
ISBN 0-670-88351-4

Jessica is a historical novel based in real facts[1] by Bryce Courtenay. It was published in 1998 and like other works from Courtenay covers several years in the life of the main character: Jessica Bergman. It was adapted into a mini-series starring Leeanna Walsman and Sam Neill which aired on Australian television in 2004. Jessica was voted Best Mini Series at the 2004 Chicago International Film Festival. It twice won the APA Who Weekly Reader's Choice Award, in 1999 and 2000.


Jessica is a tomboy, raised to be her father's son to help out on the farm. Her older sister Meg is very much her mother's daughter, and it is Meg's and their mother's mission for Meg to seduce Jack Thomas, the town's wealthiest eligible bachelor. Jessica and her dad work each year shearing at Riverview station for the Thomases - the richest family in the district. In the shearing shed, Jessica becomes close friends with Jack Thomas and William D'arcy Simon. Jessica is teased by the other boys, predominanly for simply being female. Eventually she is attacked, with tar poured over her head and hair. Jack and Billy defend her, but William is stepped on by a horse, causing brain damage and earning him the name Billy Simple. Subsequently, Jessica and Jack's relationship blossoms and they become Billy's sole friends.

Jack gets Billy a job working as a gardener for his rich family, but one day Billy kills Jack's mother and two sisters, because of their constant taunting of him. Jessica takes him on the long journey to the nearest town with a courthouse, endangering herself. Jessica holds off the angry mob of farmers, to give Billy a fair trial. When they finally reach the courthouse, the farmers (including Jack) catch them. However, although Billy has murdered his mother and sisters, Jack holds off the mob and sweeps exhausted Jessica off her feet and carries her into the courthouse. Billy is later sentenced to death, but not without a fight from his lawyer, Richard Runche.

It is discovered a few months later that Jessica is pregnant. Her parents suspect that she had intimate relations with Billy Simple on the way to town, although it turns out that she slept with Jack while in hospital for her own injuries travelling the long journey with Billy. She is locked up in a tin hut by her family, and her mum and sister come up with a scheme. Jack enlists for war, but not before being seduced by Meg as a "goodbye present." She pretends to be pregnant, forcing him to marry her, although he loves Jessica. Her mother tells the town that Jessica has gone crazy, so had to be isolated (during her pregnancy). They pretend that Meg is pregnant, and when Jessica gives birth, helped by an Aboriginal friend, they take her baby and pass it off as Meg's. Jessica's father tries to kill Jessica's mother, his wife, because of how she tricked him and Jessica, but he has a heart attack. At the funeral, when they announce that Meg gave birth, Jessica breaks down, screaming that they stole her baby.

She is put in a mental asylum, and makes friends with a Jewish man, Moishe Goldberg. She helps him to get better and when he is released, Moishe contacts Billy's lawyer, Richard Runche who fights and frees Jessica. Meg and her mother agree to give her the land entitlement for their old property plus another 10 acres (40,000 m2) on the condition that she never approaches her son, Joey, or tries to get him back. Her Aboriginal friend, Mary's (who helped her during her pregnancy) half-caste children are taken by the authorities, and Jessica, with the help of Runche and Moishe, gets them back in a court case to make history.

Upon return to her house one afternoon, Jessica finds her dog has been bitten by a snake. She goes off to find the snakes and while Jessica is successful in killing one, its mate bites Jessica before being bludgeoned to death with her rifle. Knowing that death is near, she goes back to her hut and is found dead by Mary. Mary also finds a letter Jessica wrote to Jack, but never sent advising him of being pregnant with his child.

Publication history[edit]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The book was very well received, rated at Amazon as 4.2 out of 5.0[2] and at 3.92 out of 5.0 at GoodReads.[3] The book won the APA Who Weekly Reader's Choice Award in both 1999 and 2000.


Jessica (2004/TV) - 196 Minutes


External links[edit]