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.
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 12 (Literature Unit 3)
adaptation of novel to film, Australia, Australian country life, film study, gender, love, narrative voice, setting, social reading, structure, women
Critical and creative thinking, Information and communication technology, Intercultural understanding
'A long time ago, after the publicity had finished for my first memoir When It Rains and while I was still brimming with writing confidence and no real direction I dreamed what my next book was to be. Woken by a willie wagtail calling outside my window I reached for the notebook on the bedside table. With eyes still sticky with sleep I scrawled down the details of the extraordinary walk I had just taken with Miles Franklin.' (Introduction)
'Using Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career as its focus, this paper explores the institutional possibilities and constraints of ‘worlding’ settler texts in secondary school and university environments. We argue that the teaching of texts, and those who teach texts in schools and universities, play a key role in negotiating national and international textual boundaries. This paper expands on the practices of reading, to incorporate an analysis of documents that frame the intended, espoused, and enacted curriculum. Examining the publication and teaching history of My Brilliant Career in Australia and overseas and the use of literature as a tool of nationalism and globalisation, this paper argues that the teaching of literature in institutions acts as material evidence of our efforts to negotiate the demands of the national and the global. Literature teaching thus powerfully contributes to the ways in which we understand the work that is undertaken, the boundaries crossed and compromises brokered when we study settler texts in globalised contexts.' (Publication abstract)
'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.'
When Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career was published in 1901, it was acclaimed (incorrectly) as "the very first Australian novel to be published" (Stephens 2). This was the first of many impassioned responses to the novel over the succeeding hundred or so years. My Brilliant Career is a troubling and contradictory work, especially in relation to gender. It is the fictional autobiography of a teenage girl in rural Australia as she travels between her family's poverty-stricken home and the luxurious surroundings of her grand-mother's farming property, fields proposals from suitors, and tries to work out what to do with her life. Its protagonist, Sybylla Melvyn, finally rejects marriage in the hope of an independent career.' (Introduction)