Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin grew up in the Australian Outback at the turn of the twentieth century. She could ride, shoot, and do the work of any cowhand. Unfortunately, she was a girl in a time when gender slammed the door shut on any hope of a life of the mind. Or so she thought. At sixteen, Sarah wrote a novel: a romanticized version of her life, her struggles, her dreams, and her self-deceptions. She dropped all her feminine appellations and sent it out under the name of Miles Franklin. Rejected by every publisher in Australia, her novel found its way to England, received favorable reviews, and became a best seller. Its success brought her instant fame and acute embarrassment, as friends and family recognized themselves in its pages. Franklin quickly withdrew the novel from publication and it remained out of print for sixty years.
My Brilliant Career tells the story of Sybylla Melvyn. Raised in the stifling poverty of Possum Gulley, Sybylla is suddenly sent to her grandmother’s beautiful home, Caddagat, where she is exposed to literature, music and the company of dynamic young men. Franklin’s novel is wonderful, and frustrating. Her gifts at such a young age are impressive, yet her immaturity is also evident. Her lovely description of the local fishing spot shows an impressive command of the language for one so young:
“The fish-hole was such a shrub-hidden nook that, though the main road passed within two hundred yards, neither we nor our horses could be seen by the travelers thereon. I lay on the soft moss and leaves and drank deeply of the beauties of nature. The soft rush of the river, the scent of the shrubs, the golden sunset, occasionally the musical clatter of hoofs on the road, the gentle noises of the fishers fishing, the plop, plop of a platypus disporting itself midstream, came to me as sweetest elixir in my ideal, dream-of-a-poet nook among the pink-based, gray-topped, moss-carpeted rocks.” (118)
When Franklin is giving us Australia through her bright, irreverent eyes, she is marvelous. When she lapses into the romantic ravings of a teenager, she is less wonderful, but still honest and engaging. By any standard, this little book is a remarkable achievement. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the ending, and of the life course she takes. Franklin feared marriage as an impediment to her artistic freedom, yet from the way things turned out for her one wonders if she might have been deceived in that idea. Write and tell me what you think.
The List Goes On!
The members of the Best Books Club are passionate readers, and they’ve been sending me some great recommendations for books to read over the next six months. Four of the books are new to me, and I can’t wait to get into them. Here they are, complete with comments from the readers that loved them.
July: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
I learned immensely about pre-Communist China from the perspective of a grand-daughter (Jung Chang) giving the history of three generations of the women in her family The friend who loaned it to me said, "There are parts in this book that seem wordy, you will probably want to skip over those....."
August: House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I recommend Hawthorne's "House of Seven Gables" - I LOVE that one--I would have named my 3rd son Phoebe if he had been a girl! Michelle
September: The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay
One of the best books I've read is THE POWER OF ONE by Bryce Courtenay. Our book club is reviewing it next month. Julianne
October: The Reivers, by William Faulkner
This coming-of-age tale is Faulkner at his most endearing, and most searing in his condemnation of hypocrisy. I love young Lucius, who, though so young, has such depth of integrity and character. MGF
November: Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens
I am a Dickens fan! I recently read Dickens's Dombey and Son and really enjoyed it.
December: The City of Joy, by Dominique Lapierre
This book was recommended to me twenty years ago, and provided one of those unforgettable reading experiences that we all cherish. MGF