Critical Context (Critical Guide to British Fiction)
When My Brilliant Career was published, it was hailed by the celebrated editor of the Red Page of The Bulletin (Sydney), A. G. Stephens, as “the very first Australian novel . . . there is not one of the others that might not have been written by a stranger or sojourner.” Henry Lawson, who was for long regarded as the unchallenged master of the Australian short story and who was responsible for placing the book with its publisher, wrote in his preface to it that it was “true to Australia—the truest I ever read.” This was the supreme commendation from Lawson—nationalist, proletarian, egalitarian, realist.
Within a year, the novel went through five impressions; it has remained in print, and it still outsells the author’s other books. It has been made into a successful motion picture. Yet what accounts for this popularity, given its location and subject matter, characters and period? (After all, very few Australians are acquainted with life “up the country.”) The novel is a passionate celebration of Australian nationalism: With the juxtaposition of Hawden and Beecham, this is illustrated in characters; with the introductory and concluding chapters, it is explicit. It represents modernist thinking in its depiction of the slavery and passivity of women—especially mothers—at the turn of the century. It is pervaded by a cynicism and satiric bent that is commonplace in Australia, and it spares neither government nor church...
(The entire section is 436 words.)