My Brilliant Career was written by Stella Franklin (1879-1954) when she was just nineteen years old. The novel struggled to find an Australian publisher, but was published in London and Edinburgh in 1901 after receiving an endorsement from Henry Lawson. Although Franklin wrote under the pseudonym 'Miles Franklin', Lawson’s preface makes it clear that Franklin is, as Lawson puts it 'a girl.'
The novel relates the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a strong-willed young woman of the 1890s growing up in the Goulburn area of New South Wales and longing to be a writer.
Based on the book by Miles Franklin, this feature film tells the story of an Australian country girl who, at the end of the nineteenth century, wants to make her own way in the outside world.
Rejecting an offer of marriage from a wealthy suitor (who is also her childhood friend), she instead finds herself obligated to work off her father's debt to a neighbouring family, for whom she works as governess and housekeeper. Returning home, she again rejects her suitor's proposal, this time in favour of writing a novel based on her experiences.
'My Brilliant Career, published in 1901, is the first and also the most influential work of Australian writer Miles Franklin (1879—1954). It depicts a “new woman image” which represents an ambitious, imaginative, rebellious bush girl and genuinely reflects the late 19th century Australia. She rebels and fights but fails to get out of the colonial women’s miserable life without any patriarchal persecution. She is reproached and excluded by public. She is left lonely and helpless and is nearly on her breakdown. She is a brave warrior of feminism, but still another tragic character of patriarchy.'
This essay, an introduction to My Brilliant Career, was written for the Reading Australia project. It discusses the continuing relevance of the novel, and its representations of romance, a kind of 'anti-romance,' and reading. It also discusses the novel's depiction of bush life and drought.
'Stella Miles Franklin did not want readers of her novel My Brilliant Career to assume that its author was a woman. She wrote to its publishers, asking for the 'Miss' to be removed: she intended readers to believe it to be written by 'a bald-headed seer of the sterner sex'. When Henry Lawson first read it he was flummoxed by the gender of the author. He wrote to Franklin, asking her: 'Will you write and tell me what your really are? Man or woman?' This confusion is nowhere apparent in the preface he wrote for the novel's publication in 1901...' (Introduction, p 32)
'At the turn of the last century, Australian literary and artistic hopefuls looked to London to further their careers, make good in the centre of the British Empire. Did they not have the example of Melba, the girl from the colonies who had become a diva, the most famous Australian in the world? A whole host of talents took the steamships north, actors, journalists, singers and famously Henry Lawson, for whom the trip proved a personal and artistic disaster.' (Author's introduction, p. 127)
This review of My Brilliant Career describes the work as 'a creditable essay in prose fiction by a young Australian girl' and discusses the unpleasantness of the main character.