Sunday, 19 January 2014

Review: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

Unlike a lot of my Australian peers, I somehow managed to bypass reading this one when I was in high school. In fact I never really thought that much or terribly deeply about Miles Franklin and her work at all until I was in my Honours year at university and during the course of my research I encountered an article that Ms Franklin wrote on Australian women writers, where she dismissed Catherine Martin's brilliant novel An Australian Girl as "A trying rigmarole about a woman caught between two men."

It wasn't long before disgust and loathing took hold. Who the fuck was Miles Franklin and what made her qualified to say so?

Fast forward ten years and I'm older, wiser and also have a bit more respect for the absolutely massive contribution that Ms Franklin made to Australian Literature. Her first novel was published when she was twenty-one, she was a strong supporter of two literary journals (both of which I often used for academic research,) Southerly and Meanjin made some generous donations to her local library and in her will asked for an annual literary award to be established in her name, which we now know as the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the winners have included authors such as Patrick White, Tim Winton, Thea Astley and Elizabeth Jolley. Franklin was also a feminist and was annoyed about misconceptions about her novel My Brilliant Career to the point where the sequel My Career Goes Bung would not be published until 1946, though it was written shortly after My Brilliant Career.

As for My Brilliant Career, it has, as the author points out at the beginning of the novel, no plot. It is the description of an idealistic and feminist young woman growing up in an Australian landscape. Sybella knows she is destined for better things than what the bush and life as a wife and mother, or perhaps as a nurse or teacher (the only options open to women,) can possibly offer her. So even though she finds herself attracted to a man, she turns down his proposal of marriage to embark on a possible career as a writer. And that's basically it. In between there are descriptions of what is to live in the Colony of New South Wales in the years just prior to federation. As a heroine, Sybella is often frank, shocks those around her and can be headstrong and foolish. She is also a bit of a loner. I'm not sure that I liked her, though she was interesting to read about. 

Apparently, after the novel's publication Franklin became very annoyed with the publicity surrounding the book and it's not difficult to see why. In the introduction, Henry Lawson says to readers that she is a little bush girl, which frankly, is an insult to an intelligent woman of twenty one years who has just written a book, and readers often confused the outgoing Franklin with her introverted heroine Sybella. 

This is a good one to read for historical purposes and so that one may gain a better understanding of the history of Australian Literature.