Friday, 18 September 2009

My brilliant career (Franklin) 35

My brilliant career by Franklin seemed an appropriate choice of title for reading on my first day back at work. Or something. But it was a good choice of book in terms of being readable and having a sense of fun, as well as giving me an insight into a world with which I am not terribly familiar.

Amazingly, the story was written by Franklin when she was only sixteen, and from what I understand from the introduction it is strongly autobiographical. It fits into the genre of books that I would describe as "headstrong girl is forced to be tamed by circumstances around her", similar in some ways to The getting of wisdom, or perhaps the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Sybella, the main character is a wonderful teenage heroine, and I wish that I had come across this book a decade earlier.

It tells the story of Sybella, who is brought up on an Australian farm in the late 19th century. The family suffers dreadful poverty due to the difficulties of making an income from dairy farming (there is an interesting passage where a school inspector criticises the poor achievements of countryside children compared to town children and it is pointed out how much work these children have to do outside of school and how bad their nutrition is), and also due to the drinking habits of her father. Sybella is quite rebellious and is eventually invited to stay with her grandmother and Aunt Helen who live up country. This is an amazing experience for Sybella - sleeping in a room of her own with comparatively luxurious surroundings - and they attempt to make her more gentile. Surprisingly this is achieved, despite some hilarious lapses. She meets Henry, who falls in love with her,but still feeling tomboyish, she doesn't believe that he could really love her and refuses to marry him. However, her fathers drinking worsens and she is sent away to be a governess in order to repay her debts. She can't cope with it, has a breakdown and returns home. Henry returns to propose once more, but again Sybella sends him away.

Sybella can be a little irritating at times, but I think the book gives an amazing insight into the psyche of a 16 year old, and the descriptions of the surroundings are superb. The brilliant career that the title refers to, is her desire to be a writer. Unfortunately at the end of the book, although we know otherwise, there seems to be no hope of this happening.

I am very much looking forward to the sequel: My Career Goes Bung (I hope there will not be an appropriate moment to read that...)

Published twice by Virago, I rather like the girl with the wild hair depicted on the original green edition, which really sums up how I envisaged Sybella. Unfortunately my copy is the later edition, but I am definitely on the look out for The Green One, especially as I own the sequel in that format.


  1. I had to read this for university and I loved it! It is pretty much autobiographical though Miles Franklin did refute this at the time, and I just adore how plucky and determined she is, and how she speaks her mind! It is written very much from a 16 year old's viewpoint, as you say, and that is one of the things I love most about it; it is so stroppy and self centred and opinionated; just as teenagers are!

  2. Great review! It really captured the book for me and made me want to read it. I have the sequel but not this! I should find it and read it, most definitely.

  3. Rachel - stroppy and self centred is a very good way of describing it. What course were you reading it for? Apparently she also wrote an autobiography and I'd love to compare this with that.

    Claire - if I find this in a green VMC then you can have my more recent one!

  4. I've had this one recommended to me and have an older used copy--though not a Virago. Have you ever seen the movie adaptation? I'm tempted but I prefer to read the book first!

  5. I am now tempted to see the movie, but will have to order an import. Agree re reading book first.