Friday, 15 March 2013

Review: My Brilliant Career

Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career is a book I was given upon my return from London, encouragement to complete my own novel which I have been working on for far too many years. In many ways it was an appropriate gift: it's written by a young girl, set in an Australian farming community in the Federation years and contains a feisty young woman as the lead character. And while the idea of my novel becoming an Australian classic like Franklin's is an appealing one, at the same time, I'm not sure I want it to be considered too similar in content.

Strange as it may sound, the reason for this is that I actually found Sybylla Melvyn to be a somewhat boring character to behold. Throughout the novel she defines herself as an author though she has yet to publish anything and writing seems to come low down on her list of activities. We are told that her life goal is to be an author and it is upon this that she bases many of her life choices, yet there are very few actions of her making any steps towards achieving this goal. In writing a novel, one of the pieces of advice I was given was to show the characters' actions, beliefs, convictions... not just to tell of them; Actions speak louder than words even if it all relates to fictional characters living in a fictional world. In My Brilliant Career, it is as though instead, Sybylla has little actual drive to be an author, but instead likes to use this fanciful desire of hers as an excuse.

But an excuse from what? By the time we meet her she is living a hard life, her father having lost the comfortable lifestyle into which she was born. She has become forced to toil to earn a living and consequently has come to hate it and her parents for putting her into this position, and yet when she is given an opportunity to escape from it and take up a lifestyle that would give her the time to write and achieve her desire she refuses with the usual pitiful excuse.I don't understand how it is possible for a human being to sail through life completely miserable about their position therein but at the same time making no attempt whatsoever to utilise the power and tools at their disposal to improve upon their lot in life and make it into something better.

Comparing Sybylla's spoken desires with her actions, the author questions whether being a published author is actually the character's life goal, or whether she really is just using it as an excuse. But if it is just an excuse then what is her driving force?  If having a 'brilliant career' as a writer is not her driving force then what is? Sybylla appears to be a driven woman. She gives the perception of having a mind of her own and knowing what she wants. And in this she is strikingly compared with her favourite little sister who during the brief instances of our meetings appears to be the quintessential compliant Edwardian daughter. If this discrepancy between the words and the actions of Sybylla is not just a writing flaw but is an intentional part of the character I find it makes her harder to understand, and far less interesting a character. 

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