My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin, is a novel about Sybylla, a teenage girl who wants to become a writer. In pursuit of her career, Sybylla faces various challenges, such as gender inequality and poverty. After relocating from Bruggabrong to Possum Gully, Sybylla finds life challenging in her new home. Sybylla states,
My first impression of Possum Gully was bitter disappointment—an impression which time has failed to soften or wipe away (4).
Sybylla is forced to work and support her family at Possum Gully and, therefore, is unable to pursue her passion for writing entirely. She always argues with her mother, who constantly calls her a tomboy and ugly. Eventually, Sybylla is sent to stay with her well-off grandmother. Here, she becomes self-aware and confident. She explores music and art and develops high self-esteem. During her stay with her grandmother, she meets Harry Beecham. They become friends, and Harry ends up proposing to Sybylla. However, she is hesitant about accepting his request. Sybylla’s decision is driven by the fact that she hates being needy and loves to be in control. Sybylla is not comfortable being married to a wealthy man, because she wants to be financially independent.
Toward the end of the book, Sybylla’s family requests her help in Possum Gully. She goes back to the place she once hated to help pay for her father’s debts. Sybylla works as a governess at a home she considers worse than Possum Gully, which shatters her dreams.
Like most first novels, My Brilliant Career draws heavily on its author’s experience, and its verisimilitude was such that contemporaries judged it as a factual rather than fictional autobiography—an impression that a sequel, My Career Goes Bung (1954), did not entirely dispel.
In the introduction to the story, the author advises that the book is “all about myself.... I make no apologies for being egotistical. In this particular I attempt an improvement on other autobiographies.” She then cautions, “neither is it a novel, but simply a yarn”—one about a life of “long toil-laden days with its agonising monotony, narrowness, and absolute uncongeniality.” Although she says that “there is no plot in this story, because there has been none in my life or in any other life which has come under my notice,” this is only true insofar as a planned series of interrelated actions and opposed forces leading to a climax is regarded as a plot. If one considers plot to be any sequence of events, whether planned or fortuitous, that has a discernible consequence, then My Brilliant Career certainly does have a plot; in fact, it is one that illustrates the effects of decisions and actions of others (rather than of oneself) and of forces over which one has no control. It is therefore informed by social Darwinism—as it is also by nationalism, feminism, agnosticism, and Socialist ideology.
The central irony of the novel is that Sybylla, who boasts that she is immune to diseases, that “accidents had no power over me,” and that “fear I knew not,” is neither fearless nor independent of the influences of others and of society at large. Her life has its first great crisis when her father decides to quit raising cattle on his 200,000-acre station (farm) at Caddagat and become a stock agent (cattle dealer) and then a dairy farmer near Goulburn in pursuit of wealth and an easier life. Alcohol and drought ruin him; the local bishop forecloses on loans (though neighbors buy up the property at distress prices and return it). At age sixteen, Sybylla, a self-described cynic and infidel, is sent to her grandmother’s in order to reduce costs. At Grandmother Bossier’s, Sybylla meets Everard Grey, an older, adopted relative, who suggests marriage so that he can train her in music and drama in Sydney; Frank Hawden, six years her elder, who is dismissed as “pestiferous” because of his constant attention and proposals of marriage (which Sybylla describes as degradation); and Harold Beecham,...
(The entire section is 2,201 words.)