‘Not a Good Forgetter’: H.H. Richardson’s Recasting of the Past in Myself When Young

No, wrote Ettie to Mary Kernot in one of the major understatements of their long correspondence, 'I am not a good forgetter'. The case in point was an unpleasant school-fellow from their days at PLC (Presbyterian Ladies' College), though Ettie's impressive recall was not limited to her: 'You ask if I remember Annie Robertson? Indeed & indeed I do. I can see her as if she had stood before me in the flesh only yesterday. I disliked her intensely. She was so sly, so superior, so stupid, & never passed me without some jeer at me. 'If ever you come down from the clouds again, let me know!' - But I don't think I have forgotten more than half a dozen of those girls. I have an old photograph - a group taken in my last year at school, & I can still put names to nearly all of them. No, I'm not a good forgetter'.

This clear recall, and her power to transform its data imaginatively, are everywhere apparent in the fiction, which draws essentially on the life-experience garnered between her birth in 1870 and George Robertson's appointment to a Chair at London University in 1903. It was this same period, moreover, which delimited the proposed scope of her autobiography, Myself When Young. This, one might have hoped, would have shown the formative influences on her early life and granted her faithful readers an insight into the sources of her major fiction. But Myself When Young answers neither of these expectations adequately. Instead it appears to be an artless, even escapist ramble, penned by an author for whom writing had become almost an addiction, at the very least an indispensable way of life, though closer inspection reveals it, no less than The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, to have been inspired by 'ghosts' from her past which no fictional formula could lay entirely.

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Published 1 May 1998 in Volume 18 No. 3. Subjects: Australian novels & novelists, Autobiographies, Families, Family relationships, School life, Writer's craft, Writer's inspiration.

Cite as: Ackland, Michael. ‘‘Not a Good Forgetter’: H.H. Richardson’s Recasting of the Past in Myself When Young.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1998, doi: 10.20314/als.c0f8a62698.