Rating: Five Stars
Miles Franklin (born "Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin"; 14 October 1879 – 19 September 1954) was an Australian writer and feminist who is best known for her autobiographical novel, “My Brilliant Career,” published in 1901. While she wrote throughout her life, her other major literary success, “All That Swagger,” was not published until 1936. She was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature, and she actively pursued this goal by supporting writers, literary journals, and writers' organizations. She has had a long-lasting impact on Australian literary life through her endowment of a major literary award known as the Miles Franklin Award.
Strong-headed, competent Sybylla has lived her sixteen years in and out of poverty in the Australian outback. She happily remembers her early years, including her mother's concern that she is too much of a tomboy and her father's response that "the curse of her sex will bother her soon enough." When she is ten, Sybylla's life changes drastically as her family moves, her father's businesses fail, and years of drought blight their land: "We felt the full force of the heavy hand of poverty...the wounded pride and humiliation which attacked us." At fifteen, with no visions of escape from her difficult life, Sybylla is invited to her grandmother's estate and there tastes some of the pleasures she longs for - music, books, art. She also falls in love and feels the joy and sorrow love can bring. Sybylla provides a vivid recollection of youth as she fights the conventions of her time and pays a high price to be true to her heart.
I read “My Brilliant Career,” last Christmas and fell madly in love with the story. In those days girls and women had no other aspirations than to marry and beget children. Yet here is Sybylla Melvin, a spirited girl who knows her own mind and what she wants out of life. There is no sex or anything foul in the book. At one point Sybylla does slap Harry for trying to kiss her, but that is the only “violence” that comes to mind. Mrs. Melvin (Sybylla’s mother) is, I think, jealous of Sybilla and all of her talents, therefore she mistreats her daughter and has no qualms about sending her off, even if it does break her daughter’s heart. Sybylla does not have a good opinion of religion. Mrs. Melvin constantly uses religion to force her daughter into submission, therefore Sybylla is averse to anything religious (not that I can blame her).
I wish I had read this book years earlier. It is so fantastic. There is a sequel, called “My Career Goes Bung” (a.k.a. “The End of My Career”) and though it is great, it in no way compares with the original.
I first discovered the book, “My Brilliant Career” by hearing about the movie by the same name. Gillian Armstrong is an Australian director of period movies and she is the one who directed my favorite version of “Little Women” (Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Surrandon). Well, long before she tackled “Little Women,” her directorial debut came when she did “My Brilliant Career” in 1979. Sybylla is portrayed by Judy Davis (“Me and My Shadows: Life with Judy Garland”), and a very young and handsome Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park” and “Merlin”). The movie is as magical as the book and just as enjoyable. The only draw back, in my opinion, is when Sybylla verbally curses God. It is brief and though it offended me, I can understand her frustration at the moment. Aside from that, there is nothing else to be wary of. Except when Sybylla slaps Harry; there is a little blood. If you can look beyond those two points and like period dramas and a strong heroine, then this is the movie (and book) for you.