It was only a couple of years ago I discovered that Miles Franklin was actually a pseudonym for a female writer. Whenever I heard the name Miles Franklin, I always thought he was a male writer, until I read an article which happened to mention otherwise. This is perhaps why my expectations of My Brilliant Career were the complete opposite of what I discovered the book to actually be.
My Brilliant Career is considered the pinnacle of an inherently Australian novel. It is the story of a young woman called Sybylla Melvin, set at the end of the nineteenth century in predominately outback Australia. To quote Henry Lawson: ‘The book is true to Australia- the truest I ever read.’ I have to say, I completely agree. What’s more, it is a book which is completely unconsciously Australian- it makes no excuses for being Australian, nor is it self-consciously Australian, attempting to over-compensate and make it drastically clear that this book is set in Australia by referring to every native animal possible. Some throwaway remarks about snakes are about as close as the book comes to that.
I absolutely fell in love with Sybylla and her story in this novel. She is a character who is not afraid to say what she thinks, do what she thinks is best and act according to her own values, no matter what those around her think. Her first-person narration skips and speeds across the page, capturing the ambitious dreams of youth. Franklin was only a teenager herself when she wrote the novel, and it is hard not to imagine the author with the same mischievous qualities as the main character.
I now understand the existence of the Miles Franklin Award, and perhaps even understand better what the judges are looking for when they search for the winner: they are looking for a novel which is so unconsciously Australian that the poignant Australian qualities shine through without being vigorously highlighted and underlined for the reader.
If you’re looking for a great Aussie read, look no further than My Brilliant Career. It is not only a great Australian novel, but a great novel in its own right.
My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin
First published 1901
First published in Australia by Angus & Robertson, 1966
This edition published by The Text Publishing Company, 2012