Fortunes of Richard Mahony - Text Classics
|Author:||Henry Handel Richardson|
The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is Richardson's famous trilogy about the slow decline, owing to character flaws and an unnamed brain disease, of a successful Australian physician and businessman and the emotional/financial effect on his family. It was highly praised by Sinclair Lewis, among others, and was inspired by Richardson's own family experiences. The central characters were based loosely on her own parents. Richardson also produced a single volume of short stories and an autobiography that greatly illuminates the settings of her novels, although her Australian Dictionary of Biography entry doubts that it is reliable.
Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson's use of a pen-name, adopted for mixed motives, probably militated against recognition especially when feminist literary history began. Maurice Guest was highly praised in Germany when it first appeared in translation in 1912, but received a bad press in England, though it influenced other novelists. The publishers bowdlerized the language for the second imprint. The trilogy suffered from the long intervals between its three volumes: Australia Felix (1917); The Way Home (1925) and Ultima Thule (1929). The last brought overnight fame and the three volumes were published as one in 1930. Her fame in England was short-lived; as late as 1977, when Virago Press republished The Getting of Wisdom, some London critics referred to the author as 'Mr Richardson'. Her short stories, The End of a Childhood (1934), and the novel, The Young Cosima (1939), had lukewarm receptions.
Henry Handel Richardson's place in Australian literature is important and secure. The Fortunes is an archetypal novel of the country, written about the great upsurge of nineteenth-century Western capitalism fuelled by the gold discoveries. With relentless objectivity it surveys all the main issues which were to define the direction of white Australian society from the 1850s onwards, within the domestic framework of a marriage. Powerfully symbolic in a realistic mode it is, as an English critic said in 1973, 'one of the great inexorable books of the world'.