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.)