Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, known by her pen name, Henry Handel Richardson, was an Australian author. Among her works are The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, a trilogy of novels including Australia Felix (1917), The Way Home (1925), and Ultima Thule (1929).
Henry Handel Richardson was born in East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Her family was initially prosperous but faced financial struggles later. Richardson was the elder daughter of Walter Lindesay Richardson and Mary Bailey. Her father, a doctor, died of syphilis when she was nine. The family then moved across Victoria, living in Chiltern, Queenscliff, Koroit, and Maldon. Richardson's mother worked as a postmistress in Maldon.
Richardson attended Presbyterian Ladies' College (PLC) in Melbourne from ages 13 to 17. This experience inspired her novel The Getting of Wisdom. At PLC, she honed her fiction skills, blending fact with fiction effectively. She excelled in arts and music here. Her family moved to Europe in 1888 for her musical education at the Leipzig Conservatorium. Her first novel, "Maurice Guest," is set in Leipzig.
In 1894, Richardson married John George Robertson in Munich. Robertson, a Scot, studied German literature in Leipzig and later taught at the University of Strasburg. The couple moved to London in 1903, where Robertson held a professorship at University College.
Richardson visited Australia in 1912 for research but spent her later life in England. She was a suffragette supporter alongside her sister, Lillian. Richardson also engaged in psychic research, claiming to communicate with her deceased husband through séances.
Her notable work, The Getting of Wisdom, published in 1910, is a coming-of-age novel. It depicts adolescent struggles and class differences in a boarding school. The novel reflects Richardson's own experiences and emotions from her schooling days. It has been continuously in print and was adapted into a film in 1977.
Her trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, is another significant work based on her family's experiences. It explores the decline of a successful physician due to character flaws and an unnamed brain disease. The trilogy received acclaim from notable figures like Sinclair Lewis.
Richardson also wrote short stories, an autobiography, and translations. Her autobiography sheds light on the settings of her novels but is considered unreliable by some.
She died of cancer on 20 March 1946 in Hastings, East Sussex, England. Her cremains were scattered at sea, as per her wish, with her husband's.
Australia Post has named a Canberra suburb and a postage stamp after her. Monash University's Clayton campus has a residential hall named after her. Moreover, a house has been named in her honour at Abbotsleigh School for Girls in Sydney.