Henry Lawson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207196-Lawson.jpg Henry Lawson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Henry Archibald Lawson was the first popular Australian writer to reflect distinctly Australian attitudes, and his short stories, prose sketches, and ballad verse helped develop a literary nationalism. He was born in Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia, on June 17, 1867, to Peter Herzberg Larsen and his wife, Louisa Albury, an aspiring writer and eventual participant in radical social movements, including feminism. At his birth, the Larsen name was recorded as Lawson, and that became the family name. His parents were separated, and at the age of fifteen, Lawson left his father and joined his mother in Sydney, where he worked as a coach painter. He subsequently enrolled in night school and began writing ballads: His first “Song of the Republic” appeared in The Bulletin in 1887. In 1890, he became a journalist for the Brisbane Boomerang, and in the early 1890’s he traveled widely, absorbing the material and the stories he later drew on for his fiction and ballads.

His mother published some of his prose and verse in 1894, and his principal publisher, Angus and Robertson, printed two of his books in 1896: In the Days When the World Was Wide, and Other Verses and While the Billy Boils. The following year, he and his wife—he had married Bertha Bredt in 1892—went to New Zealand, where the couple directed the Maori School at Mangamauna, New Zealand. They returned to Sydney in 1898, and in 1900 he published two more successful books, one of stories, the other of verse. His drinking, a problem throughout his adult life, caused him to seek treatment and certainly strained his relations with his wife. In fact, by the time he left for London in 1900, he had fallen in love with Hannah Thornburn. In England, he was also a success—he reprinted some of his earlier stories as well as two new books—but his triumphal return to Sydney in 1902 turned to tragedy when he discovered that Hannah Thornburn had died only a few days earlier.

Though he lived twenty more years and...

(The entire section is 827 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born on the goldfields of New South Wales at Grenfell in 1867, Henry Lawson was the eldest of the five children of Peter Larsen, a former Norwegian sailor, and Louisa Albury, his Australian wife. Henry’s name was registered as Lawson and that became the family name. His childhood was not a happy one: From the age of nine he had difficulties with deafness; the family was poor and moved frequently; the parents disliked each other and fought bitterly. Peter and Louisa finally separated by mutual consent in 1883, Louisa taking the younger children to Sydney; Henry remained briefly with his father before joining his mother to help support the family—he was fifteen at the time. Lawson seems to have been fond of his ne’er-do-well father, while he found Louisa overbearing and lacking in human warmth. A number of stories, presumably autobiographical, touch upon this period of his life, especially “A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father.”

Lawson worked in Sydney as a coach painter and, for a while, went to night school. His mother was ambitious for him and encouraged his intellectual endeavors, for by this time she was herself a considerable figure in feminist and republican circles in Australia. Idealistic in nature, Lawson soon became imbued with lifelong radical and socialist convictions. As a young writer, Lawson’s first break came in 1887, when he published a ballad, “The Song of the Republic,” in the prominent magazine The Bulletin, which also published his first story, “His Father’s Mate,” in 1880, a few days before his father died. In 1890, Lawson traveled to Western Australia and worked as a journalist, and in 1891, he moved to Brisbane to write for the radical newspaper Boomerang. Before the end of the year, however, he was back in Sydney.

At this point in his career, Lawson began to develop his mastery of the short story; indeed, he was then known more for his poetry than his prose. In 1892, he wrote his first important story sequence, the Arvie Aspinall series, and a number of his most important stories,...

(The entire section is 847 words.)