When Henry Handel Richardson died in March 1946 the first and certainly the most substantial Australian obituary was a two-page, illustrated essay in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 30 March, written by the Editor of the paper, Brian Penton. Almost 5,000 words long, it contains a wealth of information and insights drawn from a series of monthly visits he made to Richardson at her home in Primrose Hill, London, from 1931 to 1933, the first in company with Norman Lindsay.
Never having been reprinted, Penton's obituary essay is less well known to students of Richardson than it deserves to be, and the present re-publication will make it more easily accessible. Dorothy Green knew of it, and cites with approval Penton's description of 'the peculiar cadence of resignation' in the rhythms of her prose and in her speaking voice (Green 11, 486n.). She also quotes Richardson's observation to Penton that 'an artist has all his material before he is ten years old' (6); but beyond this even Green makes little use of the piece, and others have made none at all. It will be of further interest to students of Penton himself, for he makes no attempt to keep his personal impressions and critical opinions to himself in the essay. It is in fact the record of an intense and complex interaction between two important Australian writers at a crucial time in both their lives: for Richardson, the time between the great success of Ultima Thule (1929, the third volume of the Mahony trilogy), and the death of her husband three years later; for Penton, a moment when his literary and journalistic ambitions had temporarily run aground on the shoals of English lack of interest in his colonial styles in fiction and journalism: he was on the lookout for a new direction.