My Brilliant Career was widely hailed as the first truly Australian novel, Australian in the sense that it was clearly written by a resident of the country and not by a visitor or tourist seeing it from the outside. There is no doubt about Sybylla and Miles Franklin’s “Australian-ness,” as readers are treated to, and sometimes puzzled by, a steady stream of Australian names, words for people and trades, names of flora and fauna, and general expressions heard only “down under.” Though context makes most of the language clear, the book is obviously directed to an Aussie, rather than a British or American, audience: Little formal explanation is provided.
In addition to local culture, Sybylla is also full of an unremitting Australian nationalism, a pride in the equality with which people treat one another—or at least in its potential. The book is unmarred by egregious comparisons with the British class system; instead, it is only the struggle against nature that demeans and impoverishes the rural classes, not a struggle against fellow men and women. Even the swinish M’Swat family, which lets its pigs eat leftovers under the dinner table, is consistently described as “good-hearted” and morally upright. In fact, Sybylla’s flirtations with socialist doctrine seem rather empty given the lack of true class struggle; throughout, Australians at all levels are shown to be decent and generous to a fault, with wrong-headedness confined to a few misguided souls. The novel only hints at the violence against women and men around the low pubs that Sybylla’s father patronizes. The yearning throughout this book is for a society arranged on the model of Caddagat: rural, egalitarian, prosperous, and pacific. Departures from this ideal tend to be ascribed to the natural disaster of the drought, to personal failings such as Dick Melvyn’s alcoholism, but mostly to the bitter effects of isolation and ignorance in a huge, empty country.
Sybylla’s two main...
(The entire section is 813 words.)