All That Swagger Summary
by Miles Franklin

Start Your Free Trial

Download All That Swagger Study Guide

Subscribe Now

All That Swagger Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Franklin wrote All That Swagger partly to appease her family, some of whom thought they were negatively depicted in My Brilliant Career. The novel begins in Ireland, where Franklin’s paternal grandfather, Joseph Franklin, was born. Daniel (Danny) Brian Robert M. Delacy, the protagonist of the first half of the novel, has much in common with Joseph Franklin. Danny has “swagger,” a certain amount of bravura, and he is a true pioneer pursuing new frontiers. He elopes with Johanna Cooley, whose Catholic parents do not approve of Protestant Danny, and takes her to Australia, where he acquires some property and gives it its Aboriginal name, Bewuck. Not content there, he pushes on to even lonelier mountain territory in Berrabinga, where his wife, without any of the trappings she enjoyed in Ireland, is miserable. When the house at Berrabinga burns and their eldest child is killed in the fire, Johanna has to cope in Danny’s absence, and the event sours her permanently on the Australian bush and her husband, whom she banishes to the guest room.

Although he put his ambitions ahead of his wife, fails to get a priest to administer the last rites to Johanna, and totally ignores his daughter, Della, when he takes his sons into partnership, Danny is, for the most part, sympathetically portrayed. Rather than battle the Aborigines for the land, he negotiates with them, avoiding conflict. His humanity also is displayed through his rescue and “adoptions” of Doogoolook, an Aborigine boy, and Maeve, who is half white and half Aborigine; his rescue of Wong Foo from the snow; as well as his salvaging the injured horse Nullad-Mundoey, who becomes the sire of a long line of racehorses.

Danny, who lost a leg in an accident, is undaunted by his handicap and continues to ride, even fording raging rivers. Enjoying the respect of all of his neighbors for his honesty and generosity, Danny possesses “swagger” in the best sense of the word. For Franklin, Danny is one of the “givers” who “provide lashings and leavings of raw material” for the “shrewder investors—the takers.”

With Danny’s death, there is decline, as his children lack his pioneering spirit. Robert’s lavish entertaining bankrupts Berrabinga; William has no pioneering spirit; and Harry, who has some of Danny’s spirit, is physically weak. Danny’s spirit persists, however, in Clare Delacy, Robert’s daughter, who marries her cousin, Harry’s son Darcy. It is their son, Brian, who will fulfill the Delacy pioneering destiny. The characters generally agree that “Old Danny will never be dead as long as he [Brian] is alive.”

Brian’s frontier is not earthly; his frontier is the sky. After studying in Great Britain, he leaves the university to work in an airplane factory and then joins the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a pilot, but illness leads to his dismissal from the RAF. Fortunately, he finds a benefactress, Lola Bradley, a wealthy aviator, and the two, who get married, get a contract to fly the Multiple-Vertical-Gyro to Australia. The result of their successful flight is that “Here was posterity fulfilling Danny.”


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barnard, Marjorie. Miles Franklin. New York: Twayne, 1967.

Barnard, Marjorie, and Jill Roe. Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1988.

Coleman, Verna. Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career. London: Angus and Robertson, 1981.

DeVries, Susanna. Great Australian Women: From Pioneering Days to the Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Duncan, Roy. On Dearborn Street. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.

Gardner, Susan. “My Brilliant Career: Portrait of the Artist as a Wild Colonial Girl.” In Gender, Politics, and Fiction: Twentieth-Century Australian Women’s Novels, edited by Carole Ferrier. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1985.

Kent, Valerie. “Alias Miles Franklin.” In Gender, Politics, and Fiction: Twentieth-Century Australian Women’s Novels, edited by Carole Ferrier. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1985.

North, Marilla, ed. Yarn Spinners: A Story in Letters (Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Miles Franklin). St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001.

Roderick, Colin Arthur. Miles Franklin, Her Brilliant Career. Sydney: Rigby, 1982.