Of Lakes & Writing

What is it about a lake setting that captivates you in a work of literature? Think Anita Brookner’s novel Hotel du Lac or The Top of the Lake series from Jane Campion and friends, or the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend.

Which literary lakes lodge in your memory?

Jean Rhys, interviewed at eighty-nine in The Paris Review, memorably chose to describe the entirety of writing as a ‘lake’:

All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.

The metaphor ‘all of writing [as] a huge lake’ seems to conjure the repository of writing worldwide plus the imperative TO WRITE in order to feed that vast lake.  This generative metaphor, popular in the literary blogosphere, is also the namesake of the contemporary poetry webzine, The Lake.

One weekend my friend and I visit the historic town of Chiltern in NE Victoria just half an hour drive south west of Albury-Wodonga.  Here at ‘Lake View’ House overlooking Lake Anderson the caretakers welcome us into what was briefly the childhood home of novelist Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson. Better known by her pen name, Henry Handel Richardson (HHR) was one of the many Australian writers who left Australia to live permanently in Britain. HHR evoked her Australian childhood home in her novels.

We wander through Richardson’s early brick cottage on the lakeside and see her writing desk, her father’s medical equipment, a birthing chair and a ouija board.  A white-washed kitchen with hearth and chimney stands detached from the main house. Imagine having to carry a tray of roast of mutton through the rain and across to the dining room, remarks my friend.

The Henry Handel Richardson Society of Australia continues to spread the word about this foundational writer. On 3rd of January each year you can attend a reading at ‘Lake View’ on HHR’s birthday. In 2016 the NSW Writers Centre hosted a seminar in her honour.  Like many Australian school girls, I started reading the three volume Fortunes of Richard Mahony at high school. Now HHR’s titles are published by Text Classics. Having visited her childhood home I look forward to re-connecting with her novels.

And what’s it like immersed in or overlooking the waters of your favourite lake?


Photo credit

Sally Denshire at Lake Anderson


Search terms

expatriate Australian writers, Henry Handel Richardson, Jean Rhys, lake as metaphor,  lake in literature, ‘Lake View’ House, literary biography,










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