Henry Handel Richardson

From Academic Kids

Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson), born in 1870 in Melbourne, Victoria, was an Australian author. Born into a prosperous family which later fell on hard times, she lived in various towns in Victoria during her childhood and youth, and attended Presbyterian Ladies College in Melbourne between the ages of 13 and 17. (This experience was the basis for The Getting of Wisdom, arguably one of the finest coming of age novels in the English language.) She excelled at music during her time at PLC and her mother took the family (her father having died in 1879) to Europe to enable Ethel to continue her musical studies at Leipzig. Leipzig would provide the setting for Maurice Guest, a novel of youthful angst, obsession and suicide which has a mixed reputation--some critics regard it as a masterpiece of psychological realism, others see it as a mere imitation of the French and Russian realists of the 19th century. The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, her trilogy about the slow decline of a successful Australian physician and his family due to his character flaws and brain disease, is the only one of Richardson's works to obtain wide readership throughout the English speaking world. It was highly praised by Sinclair Lewis, among others, but its plot is too rambling for it to be regarded as an altogether successful experiment. Yet all three volumes contain powerful scenes, and the final volume, Ultima Thule, can be read by itself as a gripping example of a somewhat dated biological and social determinism. Richardson also wrote a single volume of short stories, at least two of which are of lasting value, and a charming autobiography that greatly illuminates the settings of her novels.

Ethel married J G Robertson in 1894 and later moved to London in 1903, where her husband had been appointed to a chair of German at the University of London. She visited Australia again in 1912 for several months before returning to England where she lived for the rest of her life. Ethel Richardson died in 1946.




  • Maurice Guest 1908
  • The Getting of Wisdom 1910
  • Australia Felix 1917
  • The Way Home 1925
  • Ultima Thule 1929
  • The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney 1930
    • Comprising the novels: Australia Felix, The Way Home and Ultima Thule
  • The Young Cosima 1939

Short Story Collections

  • Two Studies 1931
  • The End of a Childhood 1934
  • The Adventures of Cuffy Mahoney 1979
  • The End of Childhood: The Complete Stories of Henry Handel Richardson 1992 edited by Carol Franklin


Myself When Young 1948


  • Henry Handel Richardson and some of Her Sources 1954 by Leonie Kramer
  • Henry Handel Richardson 1961 by Vincent Buckley
  • Myself When Laura 1966 by Leonie Kramer
  • Ulysses Bound 1973 (revised 1986) by Dorothy Green
  • Henry Handel Richardson 1985 by Karen McLeod
  • Henry Handel Richardson: Fiction in the Making 1990 by Axel Clark


Adaptations The Getting of Wisdom was filmed in 1977, directed by Bruce Beresford, from a screenplay by Eleanor Witcombe, starring Susannah Fowle as "Laura Rambotham" with supporting roles by Julia Blake, Terence Donovan and Kerry Armstrong. The screenplay adheres closely to the novel, and Fowle's performance is a triumph.

Maurice Guest was adapted, very loosely, for the screen in Rhapsody (1954) starring Elizabeth Taylor, with the setting in Switzerland rather than Germany.

External link

Online editions of works (


  • Some of the content in this article was originally authored by Perry Middlemiss ( and has been reproduced with the permission of the Handel Richardson

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