My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)

My brilliant career by Miles Franklin (1901)

My Brilliant Career (1901) was Miles Franklin‘s first novel. Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) went on to become one of the most prominent Australian authors of her era.

She wrote this novel while still in her teens, and it was published in her twenty-first year.

It’s the story of tomboyish Sybylla Melvyn, a high-strung, imaginative girl from the Australian countryside. When her parents fall on hard times, they send her to live with her grandmother in another part of the country.

There she meets Harold Beecham. Convinced that she’s ugly and useless, Sybilla is surprised when the wealthy young man proposes marriage. 

Sybilla is then farmed out to as a domestic servant for a family to whom her father owes money. Despondent, she has a breakdown and returns to her parents’ home. Beacham tracks her down and reiterates his proposal. Sybilla, determined to become a writer, once again refuses him and vows never to marry.

Will she ever achieve the “brilliant career” that she aspires to? Readers are left to ponder the possibility for themselves, for the story is open-ended.


Decades ahead of its time

This description is from the St. Martin’s Press edition of My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin: Originally published in 1901, My Brilliant Career was written when Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was only sixteen years old. But Miles Franklin was decades ahead of her time, and this book was written for an audience not yet born.

For the character of Sybilla Melvyn, Miles Franklin created someone who voices with incredible charm but deadly accuracy the fears, conflicts, and torments of every young woman coming of age in a man’s world. Red-haired, impetuous, sharp-tongued, Sybilla has ambitions that reach far beyond here small-town life in the Australian outback.

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My Brilliant Career (1979 movie)

My Brilliant Career (1979 Film) based on the novel
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Passionate about music and books

Passionate in her attachments to a world of music and books — a world previously known only in imagination — Sybilla suddenly finds herself in her grandmother’s genteel home, Caddagat. And there, amid often dreamed-of pleasures, she’s meets Harold Beecham, the only man who could ever tempt her with marriage.

Sybilla is a young woman who “being so very plain” knows that she is “not a valuable article in the marriage market,” but “despises the slavery which respectable marriage will bring.” She will never “perpetrate matrimony,” will never be a “participant in that “degradation” — this is astounding stuff from a sixteen-year-old in the outback in 1895.

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My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)

My Brilliant Career on*
My Brilliant Career on Amazon*
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“Sybilla is me”

And yet Sybilla knows the value of love between a man and a woman: “our greatest treasure is a knowledge that there is in creation an individual to whom our existence is necessary — someone who is part of our life as we are part of theirs, someone in whose life we feel assured our death would leave a gap for a day or two. And who can this be but a husband or wife?”

Miles Franklin absorbed and shared the intense nationalism and socialism of her male contemporary mentors, but she revolted then and forever against the role of women in their scheme of things, against the “dullness and tame hennishness” of their lives.

My Brilliant Career presents one of the most encouraging heroines in fiction, because Sybilla knows what her problems are. One can hardly restrain oneself from leaping back in time to tell Miles Franklin, “Sybilla is me.”


A precocious passage from My Brilliant Career

As you read this, remember that Miles Franklin was still in her teens when she wrote this book in the late 1800s. In this passage, she receives unwanted attention from a young man who showers her with unwanted advances, and suffers for it:

I moved in the directions of the house. He barred my path.

“You are not going to escape me like that, my fine lady. I will make you listen to me this time or you will hear more about it,” and he seized me angrily by the wrist.

I cannot bear the touch of any one — it is one of my idiosyncrasies. With my disengaged hand I struck him a vigorous blow on the nose, and wrenching myself free sprang away, saying, “How dare you lay a finger on me! If you attempt such a thing again I’ll make short work of you. Mark my words, or you’ll get something more than a bleeding nose next time, I promisee you.”

“You’ll hear more of this! You’ll hear more of this! You fierce, wild, touch-me-not thing,” he roared.

“Yes, my motto with men is touch-me-not, and it is your own fault if I’m fierce. If children attempt to act the role of a man with adult tools, they are sure to cut themselves. Hold hard a bit, honey, till your whiskers grow,” I retorted as I departed, taking flying leaps over the blossom-burdened flower-beds.

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Sarah Miles Franklin

Quotes by Miles Franklin

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More about My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

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