Picnic at Hanging Rock- Summary, Analysis, Characters & Themes

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About the Novel: Picnic at Hanging Rock

TitlePicnic at Hanging Rock
AuthorJoan Lindsay
GenreMystery, Historical Fiction
Publication Year1967
SettingEarly 20th-century Australia, specifically at Hanging Rock
Plot SummaryA group of schoolgirls goes on a picnic to Hanging Rock in 1900; several girls and a teacher disappear mysteriously. The story explores the aftermath and the impact on the community.
Narrative StyleThird-person omniscient, blending fact and fiction
Historical ContextSet against the backdrop of strict Victorian-era society in Australia.
Cultural SignificanceProvoked discussions about the nature of time, reality, and the boundaries between the seen and unseen.
Literary DevicesForeshadowing, Symbolism, Irony, Ominous Atmosphere, Pacing, Unreliable Narration
Film AdaptationsA notable 1975 film adaptation directed by Peter Weir, which captures the novel’s eerie atmosphere and unsettling mysteries.

Analysis: Picnic at Hanging Rock

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay is a mysterious and atmospheric novel set in 1900s Australia. The story revolves around a group of schoolgirls who mysteriously vanish during a picnic at Hanging Rock.

Lindsay skillfully builds suspense and leaves many questions unanswered, creating an eerie and haunting atmosphere throughout the book. The ambiguity surrounding the fate of the girls and the enigmatic nature of Hanging Rock contribute to the novel’s enduring intrigue.

Characters: Picnic at Hanging Rock

The characters of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay are:

  • Mrs. Appleyard – The strict and traditional headmistress of Appleyard College, who is deeply affected by the disappearance of her students.
  • Miranda Reid – A young and idealistic teacher at Appleyard College, who is drawn to the mystery of Hanging Rock and its connection to the missing girls.
  • Irene Temperley – A popular and sophisticated senior student at Appleyard College, who is one of the girls who vanishes at Hanging Rock.
  • Marion Quinton – A quiet and introspective senior student at Appleyard College, who is also one of the girls who disappears at Hanging Rock.
  • Edith Horton – A shy and sensitive junior student at Appleyard College, who is the youngest of the missing girls.
  • Michael Fitzhubert – A young Englishman visiting his aunt and uncle in Australia, who becomes involved in the search for the missing girls.


The themes of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay are:

  1. Mystery and the Unknown: The novel explores the mysterious disappearance of a group of schoolgirls at Hanging Rock, emphasizing the uncertainty and the unexplained.
  2. Nature’s Power: The Australian landscape, particularly Hanging Rock, is portrayed as a powerful and mysterious force that influences the characters and events in the story.
  3. Repression and Conformity: The strict social norms and expectations of the time play a role in the characters’ behavior, highlighting themes of repression and the desire to break free from societal constraints.
  4. Female Identity: The novel looks into the complexities of female identity and the challenges faced by women in a conservative society.
  5. Time and Memory: The concept of time and the unreliability of memory are explored as the narrative weaves between past and present, adding to the enigma of the story.

Watch Full Video Summary of “Picnic at Hanging Rock”

Picnic at Hanging Rock Summary

Valentine’s Day picnics are a big deal for the students at Appleyard College, a famous boarding school for adolescent females located outside of Macedon. Two of their professors, Mademoiselle de Poitiers, who teaches French and dancing, and Miss McCraw, who teaches mathematics, are with them. Mrs. Appleyard, the headmistress, tells them to keep their gloves on while they ride into town as she wishes them farewell. Mr. Hussey drives the girls in his horse-drawn buggy to the picnic area.

The silence in the picnic area is uncanny. Miss McCraw and Mr. Hussey discover that their timepieces are no longer functional. Asking whether they can stroll to the base of Hanging Rock, which looms beyond the woods, are seniors Marion, Miranda, and Irma. They are free to do so, but they must hurry as they have to vacate the picnic area by four o’clock. When Edith, who isn’t popular, requests to go along, Miranda graciously agrees.

As the girls move toward Hanging Rock along the creek, they come upon yet another set of picnickers. Albert Crundall, the family’s coachman, and young, wealthy Englishman Michael “Mike” Fitzhubert watch the girls go by. While Albert is focused on Irma, Mike observes Miranda’s elegance and attractiveness. Mike and Albert chat about the ladies’ development as well as their upbringings.

The girls are initially aware of the time; Miranda alerts them to the fact that they must soon turn back. But as they make their way up Hanging Rock, the older females begin acting strangely. Despite the uneven rock surface, they remove their shoes and stockings, Marion tosses her pencil and notepad into a shrub, and Irma begins to dance, pretending she is a ballerina. All four of the girls drift off to sleep. Edith begs the three senior girls to turn around, but they wake up and keep walking up Hanging Rock. It is becoming dusk now. They ignore the faraway sound of a pounding heart. Mr. Hussey can be heard pounding on a billy (a kettle) to get the attention of the missing girls. Nobody hears Edith’s screams. Returning to the picnic area, she runs.

Edith claims that Mr. Hussey retraces the girls’ steps but is unable to locate them. In the meantime, Mike and Albert’s group has left without realizing anything is wrong. When the party returns to the picnic area, they discover that Miss McCraw has vanished as well; her books and gloves remain where she left them. In the end, the gang chooses to go back to the college even though Miss McCraw, Marion, Miranda, and Irma are still missing. On the way back, Mr. Hussey makes a stop at the police station and gives a thorough explanation of the enigma. Nobody is harmed when a doctor attends to a few of the females the next day. 

Police start scouring Hanging Rock and the surrounding region and interrogate Edith and Mademoiselle de Poitiers. The missing people are not supported by any evidence. When Edith returns to the scene with Constable Bumper, the police detective, she remembers seeing Miss McCraw walking up Hanging Rock without a skirt on. Attempting to keep the institution and its students out of trouble, Mrs. Appleyard notifies the families of the missing girls and instructor and controls the flow of rumors.

A week later, Mike sneaks out of a gathering of wealthy local families to have a beer on the boatshed with Albert; since then, the two have gotten close. Mike admits that he can’t get the Hanging Rock mystery out of his head. The following day, he persuades Albert to travel with him to Hanging Rock, even though they both act as though they are only taking a trip. When they go to Hanging Rock, they start looking. Mike is hours late for his appointment with Albert after losing track of time. Mike is determined to spend the night there; he has marked the location of the last location he was able to find. 

Although Albert worries about him, he gives in and leaves for Lake View, the Fitzhuberts’ mansion. He reports that Mike spent the night at a bar with Colonel Fitzhubert, Mike’s uncle, the next morning. The next morning, Mike looks once more following a restless night. He eventually drifts off to sleep deeply. With a cut on his skull, he wakes up to the sound of girlish laughing, which he takes to be Miranda’s. He follows her across unusual and perilous rock formations. Albert rides back to Hanging Rock as he starts to worry about Mike. When he gets there in the early afternoon, he discovers Mike comatose beneath the rock. 

Mike is returned to Lake View by them as Albert rushes to fetch a doctor. When Albert reaches into Mike’s pocket, he discovers a disorganized, incomplete letter about having met someone. When the police arrive at the location given in Mike’s message, Albert calls for help and discovers Irma there—exhausted and unconscious but still alive. At Lake View, Irma recovers at the gardener’s cottage. Upon eventually regaining consciousness, she finds herself unable to recall any of the Hanging Rock incidents. Mike is also plagued by the memory of Miranda, although he is unable to recall the events exactly. Irma and Mike appear to be starting a romantic relationship, but Mike suddenly departs for Melbourne.

Mrs. Appleyard is still working to uphold decorum and normalcy while also attempting to put an end to rumors about the college. The girls are compelled to return to their strict lesson plans and regulations. Sara Waybourne, the youngest boarder at the institution, had particular difficulties; her closest friend and roommate was Miranda. Sara experiences harsh treatment from her instructors, particularly Mrs. Appleyard, who fires Mrs. Vallange, the art instructor, and cancels Sara’s painting classes when her guardian’s school fees are late. Sara receives a message from Mrs. Vallange before she departs, asking her to stay with her in Melbourne anytime she pleases. The college handyman Irish Tom forgets to give Sara the message from Mrs. Vallange.

Irma visits the college before her parents’ scheduled trip to Europe. She anticipates a kind greeting, but the females cluster around her viciously, behaving like beasts. The girls don’t appear to remember their actions once Irma leaves.

Mike goes back to Macedon for a short while to pick up a letter he left at Lake View. He confides in Albert that Hanging Rock continues to torment him and that he will always remember it. Albert declines his invitation to travel with him to Queensland because he prefers the security of his job at Lake View. Albert receives a letter from Irma Leopold’s father the next morning, as he is taking Mike back to the station so they may go back to Melbourne, expressing gratitude for rescuing his daughter. There’s also a thousand-pound check enclosed. In response, Albert expresses his profound gratitude to Mr. Leopold, hands over his notice to Colonel Fitzhubert, and writes to Mike to let him know he will be visiting Queensland.

Mrs. Appleyard attempts to conceal Sara’s disappearance at the institution. While informing some staff workers that her guardian has already arrived to pick her up, she also informs others that her guardian is on the way. Suspicious, Madame de Poitiers writes to Constable Bumpher expressing her worry that Sara may have gone. Mrs. Appleyard, meantime, breaks into Sara’s chamber in search of hints but discovers none. The guardian of Sara writes to confirm that he will be there to pick her up next weekend.

The gardener, Mr. Whitehead, discovers Sara’s body; she commits suicide by plunging from the tall tower of the institution. Mrs. Appleyard lets out an animalistic scream as Mr. Whitehead tells her. After arriving in town, she gives Mr. Hussey the order to take her to Hanging Rock. Alone, she ascends Hanging Rock and plunges down a cliff, ending her life. 

Thirteen years after the original newspaper report, the mystery surrounding the missing individuals remains unsolved. It is disclosed that in 1901, Appleyard College caught fire.


Is the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock true?

No, the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fictional tale.

What happened to the girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock?

The fate of the girls remains a mystery, with some theories suggesting they were abducted, others believing they entered a supernatural dimension.

Where is the house used in Picnic at Hanging Rock?

The house used in Picnic at Hanging Rock is Martindale Hall, located near Mintaro in South Australia.

What happens to Edith in Picnic at Hanging Rock?

Edith flees in terror from Hanging Rock, returning to the picnic in a state of hysteria and unable to recall what happened to her.

What is the climax of novel?

The climax of the novel is the revelation of the truth about the hanging.

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