(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 667 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

My Brilliant Career is the first-person account of a talented young woman’s coming-of-age, as well as a kind of “portrait of the artist as a young woman.” It was also, for many Australians, a thinly veiled autobiographical novel, with characters and events that closely parallel Franklin’s own life. Sybylla, the protagonist, recounts her father’s economic, social, and mental decline, when the family had to move to ’Possum Gully, and describes her mother’s decline as the result of her marriage. After seeing what her mother endures, Sybylla vows never to marry, considering marriage “slavery” and a “terrible let down and unfair to women.”

Her resolve is tested when she leaves the family’s sorry homestead to live with her wealthy grandmother. There she meets Harold Beecham, a rich, young man who only gains her affections when he loses his money and must, she thinks, depend on her. Sybylla has her own misfortune. Her mother forces her to return home to help the family financially by serving as governess to the M’Swat children, whose parents are better off financially but who lack any trace of refinement. When she falls ill because of her situation, Sybylla returns to her home. Harold, who has regained his position and wealth, asks her to marry him. She rejects him, thus turning what might have been a fairy-tale romance into something else—the story of a woman who will sacrifice marriage for career and independence.


(The entire section is 531 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sybylla is the daughter of wealthy cattle station owner Richard Melvyn. When the family falls on hard times, Richard sells his three stations and buys Possum Gully, a small farm. Richard’s drinking habit undermines his livestock deals. He mortgages Possum Gully and uses the money to set up a dairy farm. The entire family slaves long hours for little return; the family drops from swelldom to peasantry. Sybylla’s previously gentle and refined mother becomes angry, thin, and careworn, while her father becomes slovenly and withdrawn; he loses all love for, and interest in, his family. Sybylla, fond of music and literature, longs for something better than the daily grind of work and sleep.

When Sybylla is fifteen years old, a drought brings the dairy farm to ruin. A dishonest moneylender’s agent absconds with Richard’s repayments, and the bailiffs are sent in; everything the family owns is sold. Their friends and neighbors, however, come to the rescue; they bid low for the family’s possessions and return them.

Because Lucy Melvyn finds her daughter’s presence a burden to her, Sybylla’s grandmother offers to have Sybylla stay with her. Sybylla leaves the farm to live at Caddagat, the home of Aunt Helen and Grannie. They welcome Sybylla warmly, in contrast to the cold farewell she received from her parents. Sybylla thrives in this loving and refined environment; she reads and plays the piano for hours.

Sybylla feels sad, however, convinced that she is so ugly and hence unlovable. Aunt Helen takes pity on Sybylla and takes her in hand to bring out her beauty. Sybylla’s “coming out” is to meet Uncle Julius (Uncle Jay-Jay) and a young English aristocrat, Everard Grey. Grey, impressed with Sybylla’s striking looks and talent for acting and singing, expresses a desire to introduce her to the stage,...

(The entire section is 755 words.)