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Richardson, Ethel Florence (Henry Handel) (1870–1946)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Ethel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

Ethel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, P1 / 1477

To a Melbourne-born girl, whose family directed her early talents towards music, must go much of the credit for drawing overseas attention to Australian literature.

The six books of Henry Handel Richardson, whose death is announced to-day, have given her a permanently honoured place, not only among Australian writers, but among the world's modern authors.

Her death, the childless widow of John Robertson, a London University professor, has brought to a close the career of a great writer of tragedy.

For in the tragedy which wove a pattern through her work her method of expression reached its highest point.

Her conception of tragedy is Shakespearean. Her theme is that failure never depends on external factors; it develops logically, inevitably, from the character of the carefully sketched central figure.

Her most important work, the Mahony trilogy, which took 15 years to write, is an example of her philosophy for life. The work ends in defeat, yet sounds a note of nobility and courage.

Her gift for music was so pronounced that she was sent to Leipzig to study, but her own standards of self-criticism were too high to allow her to proceed.

Her first book, Maurice Guest, published in 1909—it took five years to write—confirmed her decision that writing was her medium of expression.

The author was unknown, and those who noticed the book took it for granted that a man had written it.

The Getting of Wisdom came a year later, and had a background of a girls' school. Her secret was out. She was a woman.

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony was the result of a visit to Australia in 1912, undertaken to gain a more intimate knowledge of Australian life for her major work.

The first two volumes were scarcely noticed, and it was not until 1925, when the third, Ultima Thule, came out, that she gained real recognition. Critics abroad for the first time realised the value of her work.

To the end of her life, Henry Handel Richardson showed a complete disregard for publicity.

In her Dorset home she found time for her music and her writing. Her writing reflected her character—painstaking and mature.

Her style was never ornate, but rather austere, and closely wedded to the theme of her writing.

Her other works are Two Studies, published in 1931, and a collection of short stories, The End of a Childhood, in 1934.

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'Richardson, Ethel Florence (Henry Handel) (1870–1946)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/richardson-ethel-florence-henry-handel-8202/text25253, accessed 25 November 2017.

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