Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, the story of Sybylla Melvyn, an intense, passionate young woman growing up in the nineteenth century Australian Outback, is a phenomenal achievement for such a young author. Narrated by Sybylla in an autobiographical style, this novel consists of thirty-eight chapters, beginning with her earliest recollections of life in the Outback but focusing on her sixteenth through nineteenth years. An early landmark in feminist literature, My Brilliant Career is more relevant to contemporary audiences than it was to early twentieth century readers.

Sybylla Melvyn, born on a large estate in the Australian Outback, is the high-spirited, rebellious daughter of a wealthy landowner and a woman of aristocratic background. When Sybylla is nine years old, her adored father sells the family’s estate to try his hand at dealing cattle. Dick Melvyn’s poor business sense, coupled with heavy drinking, propels the family into poverty within a year and transforms him from “a kind and indulgent parent, a chivalrous husband, a capital host, a man full of ambition and gentlemanliness” into a “despicable, selfish, weak creature.” Sybylla’s heroic image of her father is destroyed, and her idyllic life disappears. Their existence at the new family home, Possum Gully, is harsh, and Sybylla, who longs for a “brilliant career” as a writer, foresees nothing in her future but mind-numbing, back-breaking labor.

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(The entire section is 533 words.)