Original date of publication: 1901
My edition: 1981
Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK June 2012
My Brilliant Career was written when Miles Franklin was only 16, and it shows all the imperfections of youth. Based on Franklin’s experiences, the novel is the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a young girl who proves to be too much for her parents to handle, is sent to her grandmother’s in the Australian bushland, where she quickly becomes enamored of that way of life—and of pursuing a career as a writer.
Sybylla is headstrong and opinionated, but as with youth she is naive and defiant. I liked her at first for being different from the usual housewife aspirant, and for wanting something more from life than the obvious. Our heroine is, nonetheless, a product of her environment, and she is, accordingly, naïve. But the more I read, the less I really liked Syblla. As I’ve said the book is autobiographical, so I don’t think that Miles Franklin had much of a chance to fully disengage herself from her material. There is also a reliance on melodramatic plot elements that the author might easily have gotten from the romance novels of the period (eg, the “ugly duckling” theme, the struggle between Sybylla and her mother, or the romance). It is a little bit juvenile and speaks of someone who doesn’t have much experience of the world.
Still, the novel is revolutionary for the narrator’s outlook on life and her interest in and love for her native country. The author’s affection for the Australian bush country is palpable; the author was apparently a skilled horsewoman, for example, and it shows clearly in the novel. Although people in her area took the novel as fact, Miles Franklin insisted that the novel wasn’t completed based on her experiences, and it is interesting that for a period of 60 years, she banned the republication of My Brilliant Career—despite its popularity upon publication in 1901.