Review: Miles Franklin’s “My Brilliant Career”

by writereaderly

My God. I’m devastated. What the hell was she doing?! She ditched him!? What was wrong with her?! She’s nuts. I’m all a-flutter and can’t calm down. What kind of crazy was she to write this, and, one rather suspects, to live it first?!

So having spoiled the ending with my post-lectoral frenzy… Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin wrote this at 16, sent it to Henry Lawson using her manliest names, he wrote a patronising prologue about “girl” writers, it was published in 1901 and has become a worthy Australian classic. Heroine Sybylla grates against her family’s drink-induced poverty, craves literature and the arts, gets sent to rich granny, lives the good life for a while, and flirts with a good, rich man, Harold Beecham. After some trials and tribs on both sides, she breaks his devoted heart because she’s not good enough for him (but really, doesn’t want to be married? Fears she won’t become a writer if she marries him? Is clinically insane? I got the strong impression even she didn’t really know).

It’s a good book, *very* impressive, although it has a few moments where the adolescent angst is a little too real. I loved the 19th-century Aussie-ness of it, and Sybylla’s zeal and striving to be… something, she doesn’t know what, but definitely a something. Her seething anger at the world made my heart ache for her: such flinging of enraged fireballs at the world! (Yours truly of course recognises her truliness in our heroine). I was certainly sucked into the love story, as indicated by the drama above.  Well, entirely sucked in, and I’ll possibly still be writhing over the injustice of the ending come the morning.* (DC reckons Beecham was too boring for Sybylla, but I still plump for inherited insanity/undirected rage. Don’t even try to convince me that Franklin was post-modern a century ahead of her time, breaking with readers’ expectations of the romantic genre.)

* It’s true. My dreams and head were all full of the book when I woke up.

NB: A largely different version of this review appears in the August/September 2012 edition of the Terania Times.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: The last few days, in tram- and bed- and waiting-reads
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: That esteemed literary tradition of headstrong, intelligent young women trying to become themselves – I’m sure you can come up with another heroine or two in this mould
Who I’d recommend it to: Damned good book, especially considering it was finished when she was 19 (!!!)
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Moby Dick by Herman Melville; Working Hot by Mary Fallon