The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is a three-part novel by Australian writer Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson under her pen name, Henry Handel Richardson. It consists of Australia Felix (1917), The Way Home (1925), and Ultima Thule (1929). It was collected in 1930 under the title by which it is now best known. Its publisher, William Heinemann Ltd, claimed on the jacket to the 1965 edition, “This is now recognized as one of the greatest novels in the English language.” It was acclaimed for its rich characterizations and then-startling depiction of mental illness attacking an otherwise respectable person, while his much-younger wife, who does not think herself clever, must become resourceful with a high-level of uncomfortable capability. In recent years, it has been recognised as a graphic description of the onset and evolution of young onset dementia caused by neurosyphilis, the condition from which her father died.
The book is based, at least in outline, on events in the life of Richardson’s parents, Walter Lindesay Richardson and Mary Bailey, though it should not be considered a biography, as many major and minor changes were made. The publisher originally balked at publishing the third volume (after the first two had modest sales) without persuasion from Richardson’s husband. Only when the third volume appeared was it hailed as a great novel. Ultima Thule won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for 1929.
An early American edition of the book contained an introduction by Sinclair Lewis in which he erroneously claimed that Richardson’s true name was Henrietta, with no mention of Ethel. A new 3-volume edition was released by Australian Scholarly Publishing in December 2007. A new one-volume edition, with a new introduction by Peter Craven, was issued in Australia by Text Publishing in its Text Classics series in 2012.