Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Two Hanged Women" by Henry Handel Richardson

"Two Hanged Women" by Henry Handel Richardson 8 pages, 1929
I recently discovered a new to me writer in my research on Australian Bush writers that I wanted to learn more about and post on.     Henry Handel Richardson (pen name of Ethel Florence Lindsey Richardson) was born in Melbourne Australia in 1870. She died in 1946 of cancer. Her roots were Irish and English.   Her father was a successful doctor specializing in obstetrics who achieved some affluence through the purchasing of shares in gold mines.    .    At age 18 her mother took her to Europe to pursue musical studies.     She remained in Europe and England until 1912 when she returned briefly to Australia to research her family history.    Based on her father's experience as a doctor in the colonies (he was in part a bush doctor so this justifies me in including her in my Bush Writers Project) she published her master work, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (1930).   It is a trilogy (over 1000 pages) and is set in the gold fields in mid Victorian Australia.     One of the great things about short stories is they let us get to know new to us writers without a huge time commitment.   Richardson also wrote and published a number of short stories, some of which can be read online.     

Before posting on "Two Hanged Women" I should point out that Wikipedia in its article on her  says  that Henry Richardson should be considered a bisexual but the Australian National Dictionary of Biography explicitly says that is a pure conjecture unsupported by any concrete evidence.     She was married for many years and after her husband's death felt she  maintained daily contact with him through seances.   She was an ardent support of the suffragette movement.  

"Two Hanged Women" is a simple story that opens on a young couple out for a romantic walk along a shore. They see they are not alone so they begin to make loud kissing noises hoping it will run the intruders away.   It does work.   The man is surprised to see the other two people were women and he refers to them as just "two hanged women".      I did some quick research to see if  the expression "hanged women" might have a meaning unknown to me in Australian slang of the 1920s and 1930s.     A bit of quick research seems to indicate it just refers to two women "hanging out"-(being somewhere for no purpose).    If I am missing something here please correct me.

I really liked her prose style and the story line does seem to support the notion that the two women are lovers at least spiritually.    I want to quote a bit from the story so other can see if they might enjoy her work and also to allow some play to the notion that this story is about a lesbian relationship.

 "I’m afraid of him . . . when he looks like that. Once . . . when he kissed me . . . I could have died with the horror of it. His breath . . .his breath . . . and his mouth — like fruit pulp — and the black hairs on his wrists . . . and the way he looked — and . . . and everything! No, I can’t, I can’t . . . nothing will make me . . . I’d rather die twice over. But what am I to do? Mother’ll NEVER understand. Oh, why has it got to be like this? I want to be happy, like other girls, and to make her happy, too . . . and everything’s all wrong. You tell me, Betty darling, you help me, you’re older . . . you KNOW . . . and you can help me, if you will . . . if you only will!” And locking her arms round her friend she drove her face deeper into the warmth and darkness, as if, from the very fervour of her clasp, she could draw the aid and strength she needed.
Betty had sat silent, unyielding, her sole movement being to loosen her own arms from her sides and point her elbows outwards, to hinder them touching the arms that lay round her. But at this last appeal she melted; and gathering the young girl to her breast, she held her fast.— And so for long she continued to sit, her chin resting lightly on the fair hair, that was silky and downy as an infant’s, and gazing with sombre eyes over the stealthily heaving sea."

"Two Hanged Women" can be read here

I think most readers would enjoy this story.   

Mel u


ds said...

You're right--that some powerful writing. Great excerpt! Thanks for introducing us to this writer.

mel u said...

ds-thanks-that is one of the great things about short stories-

Umbagollah said...

"Hanged" is possibly standing in for "bloody" or some other intensifier: "Just two bloody women, just two bleedin' women --" something like that.

Rad Hall said...

When I read the short story ages ago - I forget in which anthology - the foreword said that 'hanged' was synonymous with 'damned'. So those 'damned women' both as simple vulgarity and more deeply because their relationship, theologically, literally damned them.