My Brilliant Career was published in 1901. It was written by Miles Franklin when she was just sixteen-years-old. Considered to be semi-autobiographical about a young girl growing up in the Outback of Australia. And not just your run-of-the-mill girl who is interested in boys, dances, clothes, and marriage, but a girl who dreams of life beyond the mundane, a life she dreamed as her brilliant career. In a NY Times review of the book, Phyllis Rose said the book should be called an "adolescent fantasy." Indeed at times I found myself wanting to knock Sybylla's head because she was behaving so immaturely, then I would have to remind myself that she was only sixteen...not just as a character but as an author. Of course, it was an adolescent fantasy. What teenager doesn't fantasize about what they hope their life will be like? Sybylla thinks of herself as ugly and not worthy of being loved. Yet, she pines for something more than the mundane life she lives.
Phyllis Rose goes on to explain that the publication of My Brilliant Career, which Franklin thought would launch her writing career, ended up being the bane of her existence.
To her horror, people assumed that the novel was totally autobiographical, in detail as well as outline - that the louts of Possum Gully were the louts of her home region, that her father was a drunken incompetent, that the swinish M'Swats and the romantic Harold Beecham really existed. She had expected literary success to bring her love and applause; instead, in her neighborhood and within her beloved family, she inspired only outrage...she felt (she said) like a woman who had had a baby out of wedlock; her joy in the baby was undercut by her sense of disgrace. She wanted to forget My Brilliant Career, to blot it out. Later, she would refer to it contemptuously as a girl's book, tossed off in a matter of weeks (10), written out of 'inexperience and consuming longing.' (Rose, NYT)For 65 years the book was out-of-print at Franklin's insistence. It was not published again until 15 years after her death. When it was republished it was picked up as some sort of feminist manifesto... a young woman who wants to make her way without a man.
I disliked and liked the book in equal measure. I liked the picture of turn-of-the-century Australia that it painted. Tea parties, horse races, bone-breaking work, hot and dusty wagon rides, and wonderful romps around the piano all seem so foreign today. I disliked the stilted language Franklin used to express Sybylla's thoughts and conversations. I also disliked the seeming lack of plot. Though, to be fair, Franklin warns her readers in the introduction that it was all about her and for her that she wrote the book. Plot be damned, apparently. (No wonder her family thought it was autobiographical. She said as much!)
When I was in my early twenties, a movie was made of "My Brilliant Career" starring Sam Neill and Judy Davis (1979). It won six Australian Academy Awards and caused quite a buzz for the book. My mother and I saw the movie together and she told me she thought I was like Sybylla. Apparently I didn't press her as to what she meant at the time, but the comment has stayed with me since then. I thought that she compared me to Sybylla because the actress playing Sybylla (Davis) and I both have frizzy hair. But now that I've read the book I think she meant something different. Of her four children, I was always the child who felt out-of-step with the family. In fact at one point as a young child I told my mother I didn't think I was as special as my siblings. My mother listened to my explanations but didn't hear or understand my pain. How do I know this? Because she immediately turned around and sang me the "Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me, Guess I'll Go Eat Worms" song. Obviously, my mother didn't understand me, nor did Sybylla's mother understand her. I was also a girl who had boys who were friends (not boyfriends) so did Sybylla. My mother could never understand this part of my personality. Lastly, I often compared my looks to my older sister and found myself wanting. I suspect that was what my mother saw a lot of Sybylla in me. Never fear. My mother and I have fully mended our relationship and are great friends now.
I thought I would rewatch the movie after I finished the book, but unfortunately I can't do it without paying money I am not willing to spend. The public library doesn't have it, neither does Netflix. Oh well. I shall have to deal with my memory on that one.
Miles Franklin is remembered as only a mediocre author, having published nearly ten novels, but she did do one really remarkable thing before she died. She established an annual award for the best novel about Australian life, the Miles Franklin Award. Oddly, one of the books on the Miles Franklin 2017 Short List is titled My Brilliant Careers, by Ryan O'Neill. I love it when life offer up coincidences like this.
How do I rate this book? I'd give it 3.5 stars out of 5. The best parts, about life in Australia during the late 1800s, is worth the read, if for no other reason than that.
Source: Print. My own copy.
Franklin, Miles. My Brilliant Career. Angus and Robertson Publisher. Illustrated by Luciana Arrighi. 1980.
I loved reading this review. Gave me a sense of the book and the reviewer! And that gives me a sense of whether or not the book would be worthy my while.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Rita, for your comments. I think you should skip this one. Too many good books out there to read one written by a 16-year-old (or just read an excerpt. I know that you can appreciate my comments about me and mom. I know she thought of me as the black sheep of the family for a lot of years.Delete
I love how you discuss how you think you compare to Sybylla, and the similarities your mom might have seen. It doesn't seem like my sort of book since I prefer a plot. :)ReplyDelete
Nope. You wouldn't like this one. Skip it! You understand about family dynamics and you know me, so you can guess why it has bugged me for years that mom compared me to Sybylla.Delete
You’ve summed up beautifully why I love & loathe this book in equal measure! She really did capture the Australian outback of the time do perfectly, but Sybilla (& I suspect, Franklin) were extremely annoying individuals.ReplyDelete
Oh, I am so glad to hear from an Aussie friend. I was worried that you loved the book and would be cross with me for this review. Whew!Delete
I loved this book ... when I was 16. Haven't dared read it again even though I've kept it all these years!ReplyDelete
It seems a bit of a tough read. I have a copy of it -- but there it sits unread. I remember the movie fondly b/c I liked both actors but wouldn't mind seeing it again now. Maybe on YouTube or GooglePlay? I will look for it. & maybe give the novel a try.ReplyDelete
This was really interesting. I did find the book more worth reading that you but I can see the negative points too. The most annoying thing was how Sybylla was always whinging about how ugly she was when plainly nobody else was bothered about that.ReplyDelete