Book two of Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony trilogy is called The Way Home.
A few spoilers will no doubt appear as I ramble my way through this review. So be warned!
Spoilers and a ramble – I’m not sure which is worse?
The idea of home is one of the major themes throughout the trilogy.
At the end of Australia Felix we see Mahony and Polly set sail for England.
Mahony is yearning to be in Mother England once again but Polly is reluctant to leave the country and friends of the home that she now loves – Australia.
The Way Home begins with an abundance of home references and phrases – homeward bound vessel, home waters, the homing wanderer, his island home.
Mahony is convinced he will find what he is looking for here. Polly simply puts on her brave face.
HHR foreshadows what is to come in the Proem as she has Mahony gazing on the iron-grey sky, the emerald belt…painted in greenness. The adorable littleness, of the English countryside as seen from the ship, this miniature perfection.
Upon seeing the familiar atmosphere of his childhood Mahony say, “It looks too good to be true, my dear.”
By now we know enough of Mahony’s contrary nature to feel sure that these words will be prophetic indeed.
The Way Home proves to Polly (and us, the concerned and slightly frustrated reader) that it doesn’t matter which environment her husband is in, Mahony will still be the same man. Restless, insecure, impulsive, fatalistic, dissatisfied and let’s be frank, just plain annoying!
Polly (she will always be Polly to me no matter how many people call her Mary instead!) already understands that home is where the heart is. And, of course, her heart is with her husband. She therefore spends the first part of this book making the best of every situation he gets them into.
Even when Mahony finds the house of his dreams in Buddlecombe, things sour quickly. He finds himself comparing Australia and England and catches himself saying “where I come from..” He quickly finds the streets dingy, dirty, cold and cheerless and full of strange faces.
He chafes at the strict social order, yet feels the slur of being called a Colonial (curiously a derogatory term the English still liked to fling about when I was there in 1991!)
He is frustrated by the slow-thinking, slow-moving country and yearns for ordinary decent feelings and a little kindness instead of breeding and blue blood.
|Henry C Gritten|
Mahony is still convinced that the Hand of Providence, fate and chance are at play in his life as his expectations of life in Mother England are thwarted at every turn. Dear Polly is not fooled though, as she muses a little wryly, that the “fates” to which he so jauntily referred were, after all, but another name for his own caprices.
The Way Home sees Polly lose her trust in Mahony’s judgement. Her faith and loyalty are constantly tested by his poor decisions and faulty logic.
When Mahony finally admits failure and agrees to return to Australia he tells himself that no place could now be “home” to him as long as he lived. He was once more an outcast and a wanderer.
|Bourke St Melbourne – Charles Nettleton 1879|
Prophetic words once again from HHR.
Even as the ecstatic welcome home from their family and friends proves that they are not, in fact, outcasts, Mahony chooses to see it is as only being for Polly and keeps himself at an emotional distance from all the goodwill.
He craves more from life, but is unwilling to put in anything in return.
It almost seems like he unconsciously creates dramas by acting rashly and impulsively to make life more exciting.
And each time he finds himself saying to Polly, if only I’d had the good sense to take your advice!
It was obviously Mahony who named their new Melbourne home Ultima Thule after the classical reference to the northern most region of the habitable world according to ancient geographers.
I was curious to see that ultima thule’s other two meanings were:
2. A distant destination or territory.
3. A remote goal or ideal.
All three meanings sum up Mahony’s attitude to Australia and his personal philosophy perfectly.
|Port Melbourne steam train – William Burn 1870|
The final chapters of The Way Home, see Mahony once again reeling from the effects of his poor choices and Polly doing the best she can to pick up the pieces.
How much more can she take?
Will Mahony ever find peace of mind or learn the art of gratefulness?
There are so many more issues to cover – women’s rights, colonial history, spiritualism, child care….to name a few.
I loved seeing old Melbourne. I now have family in the Brighton area where Ultima Thule was built. I loved seeing it as open pastures and gardens on the outer edge of the city.
Brighton is still full of the big, old colonial homes, but most of the open spaces have gone. It is a regular, albeit, wealthy, city suburb. You can still smell the sea.
Also reviewed by Me, You and Books.
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