Review: Jill Roe’s “Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography”

by writereaderly

jill roe stella miles franklinThis is a mammoth biography, 700-odd pages including all footnotes and indices, and it took Jill Roe a mere 26 years to write. She’s the first biographer to have had access to all of “Miles’” papers (as Roe terms her), and my goodness, she has been thorough in documenting Franklin’s meals, manuscripts, men and mateships. It’s a terribly thorough work, the bio that will no doubt underpin and be contested by all future works, but I would consider Roe a historian rather than a biographer, in that this is a detailed, historical and literary biography meant for academics and not for the generalist reader. Impressive for what it is, but not entertaining or personable enough for my wants.

In regards to what I got out of it, given what a serious readership task it turned out to be, the list is varied. It was great to read of a dedicated writer spending her life being and bewailing the writing life, as well as the vast amount of writing she completed (often now lost) after her instant fame with My Brilliant Career. I was impressed by Franklin’s work with working women’s unions in Chicago and public housing and urban design advocates in London. I was moved to read about how tightly she lived financially in order to fund the now prestigious Miles Franklin Award: the original endowment she left was equivalent to 18 times the average worker’s yearly wage. I have a much better sense of the history of Australian publishing, in terms of the industry and the thematic trends on the first 50 years of the 20th century. And I wish I had gained a better sense of Franklin as the charming and witty conversationalist she must have been, but even in a chattier style of biography that’s hard to transmit.

I’d recommend this to the true fans or the academic researchers, and I commend Roe for the scope and dedication of her work in unveiling the details of Miles Franklin’s life.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of weeks of chapter-at-a-time reads; it’s dense and factual, not for the light entertainment reader
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “Writing depends on an inner core of stillness.” (p.513)
Reminds me of/that: My Lordy, one has to be driven to be a Real Writer
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those with a professional interest
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Life on Earth by David Attenborough