The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Miles Franklin has given her characters interesting names: While some—Aunt Helen, Harold Beecham, and Frank Hawden, for example—are typically Australian, others, such as Everard Grey, Lucy Bossier Melvyn, and Sybylla Penelope Melvyn, are atypical and suggest an effort to indicate superior social standing or aspirations. In particular, the protagonist’s names have classical associations: Sybylla suggests that she is an antipodean prophetess, while Penelope reminds one of Ulysses’ faithful wife who remained at her tasks for twenty years and rejected her many suitors. On the other hand, the McSwats’ name borders on the ludicrous and suggests that they spend their time swatting the flies that infest their filthy homestead, with its chickens and pigs that have ready access to the kitchen. Even the minor characters have names that follow this pattern: Blanche Derrick, the Melbourne beauty who “lived in a sea of unruffled self-consciousness and self-confidence”; Jane Haizlip, the servant girl who is certainly a persona of the author and an outspoken critic of the “dulness” of the Outback; and George Ledwood, Joe Archer, Mr. Goodchum, and Mr. Goodjay.

Each of these—more particularly the major characters—is characterized in pointed epithets or brief, penetrating phrases. Mrs. Melvyn is “a creature of circumstance”; Aunt Helen has “something beautifully sincere and real about her”; Everard Grey is “a veritable carpet knight”; Peter McSwat is “an utterly ignorant man with small ideas,” while his wife is “a great, fat, ignorant, pleasant-looking woman,...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sybylla Penelope Melvyn

Sybylla Penelope Melvyn, an Australian adolescent farm girl, the principal character in this fictional autobiography, which describes her life from the ages of fifteen to nineteen. Sybylla is the eldest child of Richard and Lucy Melvyn. Her fierce independence and her brash personality often cause others to misunderstand her. She rebels against the limited opportunities for women in society, and she denounces sexual inequality. She uses her talent for writing to describe the universal dignity of ordinary Australian women, with whom she identifies very closely. Despite her deep friendship for Harold Beecham, she decides against marrying him because of her firm belief that marriage will restrict her freedom and cause her profound unhappiness.

Richard (Dick) Melvyn

Richard (Dick) Melvyn, Sybylla’s father, a cattle rancher and a dairy farmer, first described by Sybylla as a handsome, well-dressed man and a kind father. After their move to the small village of Possum Gulley, he develops a drinking problem. His alcoholism creates severe financial hardships for his family. In Sybylla’s opinion, her father seems “to lose all love and interest in his family, and [grows] cross and silent, utterly without pride and pluck.”

Lucy Bossier Melvyn

Lucy Bossier Melvyn, the wife of Richard Melvyn. She enjoyed a very happy childhood and adolescence, and she regrets that she ever married Richard because his irresponsible behavior led her and their children into poverty. Lucy takes out her frustration on her children. Sybylla describes her mother as always ladylike and elegant but as a bitter woman indifferent to the emotional needs of her children. Near the end of the novel, she forces Sybylla to serve as the...

(The entire section is 737 words.)