Forgotten Fiction: Classics You Might have Missed

My Brilliant Career: By Miles Franklin. First published in 1901.

My Brilliant Career: By Miles Franklin. First published in 1901.

My Brilliant Career
(By Miles Franklin. First published in 1901.)

Sybylla, a tomboy growing up in poverty in the Australian outback, dreams daily of the pleasures to be found in music, art and books. She is not afforded the opportunity to meet such pleasures, though, until she is 15 and is invited for the first time to her grandmother’s estate, where she falls in love and also learns of pain and sorrow.

The first-person narrative brims with Sybylla’s comic self-examinations, which often sound like very smart diary entries — say, Anne Frank crossed with Samuel Pepys. One of her chapter titles is “Possum Gulley Left Behind. Hurrah! Hurrah!” And here she is giving old Ralph Waldo Emerson a run for his money: “I am sadly lacking in self-reliance. I needed someone to help me over the rough spots in life, and finding them not, at the age of sixteen, I was as rank a cynic and infidel as could be found in three days’ march.”

“My Brilliant Career” was written when Miles Franklin (aka Stella Marie Sarah Miles Franklin) herself was only 16, but the negative publicity she received for her portrayal of Outback Aboriginal people caused her to stop further publication of the book, which remained out of print until 1966, many years after her death. In 1979, Gillian Armstrong made it into a movie starring Judy Davis. It’s our good fortune that the book has been resurrected in more ways than one, for it captures the adolescent girl’s longings more accurately than many more accomplished writers credited for doing the same. —Mary Welp