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My Brilliant Career


My Brilliant Career


This impassioned debut novel by Miles Franklin was written when its author was only 16 years old and glistens with precocious wisdom.

My Brilliant Career is a semi-autobiographical novel that features a turn-of-the-century heroine who seems to have wandered from the pages of a Louisa May Alcott novel into the Australian Outback.

Sybylla Melvyn is an Australian proto-feminist heroine, a wild and tomboyish girl who is set on having a career of some kind in the arts, much to her mother’s exasperation.

She wants to be a writer (hence the title). Never mind the fact that Sybylla has heretofore done her only writing while sitting on a tree branch, with a kitten in her lap.

She is sent away to her grandmother so as not to be a burden on her already struggling family and to learn manners. Here she meets Harry Beecham, a childhood friend whom she had not seen in years. A romance springs up but Sybylla has ambition and no interest in marriage. She finds herself torn between two things she wants dearly.

She fights to forge the brilliance of a career that may well never come—and does not within the course of the book—as she faces adversities related to her gender, class and ambition.

Given that My Brilliant Career was authored decades before Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own on the other side of the globe, it’s miraculous how concurrently their arguments run. The events of the first third of the book read almost as if in response to Woolf’s thesis, wherein she ponders: What effect has poverty on writing?

The paragraph in Career that most directly proposes an answer to Woolf’s question of poverty and writing reads thusly:

“Hard graft is a great leveler. Household drudgery… and gardening soon roughen the hands and dim the outside polish. When the body is wearied with much toil the desire to cultivate the mind … is gradually wiped out.”

Sybylla is a refreshing character who questions the societal expectations of women at a time when they had few ways of being independent, especially unusual because this character was written over a century ago.

Franklin shines an intense light not only into the deep recesses of a bright young mind but on the dark corners of inequality caused by "the rope of class distinction". Indeed, the author is most powerfully brilliant when depicting those who poignantly fail to achieve their full potential.

MILES FRANKLIN (Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin) was born in 1879 and died in 1954. Franklin was an Australian writer and feminist best known for her novel My Brilliant Career and All That Swagger, published in 1936.


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