Where shadows have fallen: The descent of Henry Kendall by Adrian Mitchell

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Subtitled The descent of Henry Kendall this biography does not describe a descent so much as a struggle to rise. Once regarded as Australia’s finest poet, his life story is however a tale of an uncertain man, without a great deal of education, forever trying to garner favour, casting aside friends who could no longer advantage him, and descending too frequently into alcoholism and destitution. Mitchell traces Kendall’s disreputable ancestors, people with a willingness to defraud even those most close to them, something that the poet himself also descends to in times of poverty.

Whilst no doubt of interest to readers of Kendall’s poetry, eager to learn more of the poet’s life, Mitchell’s book is most fascinating in its careful analysis of facts, its questioning of a romantic view of the past, and its exposure of how myths become entrenched in the historical record, stories that just don’t fit with times and dates. It raises interesting questions of how history is created, things embellished and things forgotten, to create a story that suits us.  But Mitchell’s record is just as interesting; his story is of a very fallible man, an outsider, who wanted to be better but whose failings continually drew him down.

Whilst Mitchell never attempts to garner sympathy for his subject, he does highlight the hardships of the life of the artist, and readers must sometimes feel that things are not so different today for people who struggle to make a career in the arts.

Themes: Non-fiction, Poets, Australian poetry.

Helen Eddy