Henry Handel Richardson Fifty Years On

Having been asked to speak at a Henry Handel Richardson seminar, on the particular question of developments in the study of her life and work in the half century since she died, makes me feel that in one basic way the question answers itself. The very fact of this seminar being held, producing plenty of new ideas and information, together with reports of new publications and research projects, testifies to the continuing vitality and expansion of what I'll call 'Richardson Studies'. Testifies also to a broad though by no means unambiguous critical agreement that she was a major Australian novelist, whose work merits and repays serious, extensive study - a view held at least as strongly today as it was at the time of her death in 1946. She wasn't one of those artists famous in their lifetime whose reputation faded soon after they had themselves passed on.

But though scholarly interest in her endures and flourishes, she has passed beyond living memory. Nettie Palmer, the greatest sponsor of her reputation as a writer, who published the first book on her in 1950, and after her death was for many years the only significant critical commentator on her work who had known her personally, died in 1964. Almost everyone who ever knew HHR personally has also passed on now. And this has meant a shift of perspective for scholars.

Inevitably over the decades several other important commentators have also died. I'm thinking particularly of Dorothy Green, whose biographical and critical study, Ulysses Bound, was a landmark when it appeared in 1973. Dorothy gave considerable impetus to Richardson Studies by writing this book; also by originating the project of a centenary Henry Handel Richardson Seminar at the National Library in 1970, and presenting a lecture at that seminar. Entering the library for the 1997 seminar I felt her absence strongly. But one other speaker at the first seminar did come to the second, I'm happy to say: my mother, Dymphna Clark, who gave the first extended account of HHR's work as a translator. To be speaking in her presence, and as part of a tradition to which she made an original contribution, has given me some sense of continuity in Richardson Studies (although that's a locution my mother may not wish to be identified with).

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Published 1 May 1998 in Volume 18 No. 3. Subjects: Australian literary criticism, Biographies, Correspondence, Diaries & journals.

Cite as: Clark, Axel. ‘Henry Handel Richardson Fifty Years On.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1998. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.65b1d077d5.