Verna Coleman’s biography of Miles Franklin is extremely valuable but somewhat flawed. Those parts of Franklin’s life that are germane to the mateship tradition and the development of a nationalist Australian literature have been widely canvassed – although they take in only her precocious youth and mellow old age. The crucial decades between 1906 and 1927 are an almost total blank, even though they include the writing of her most important journalism and all but one of the novels on which her reputation rests. (Marjorie Barnard scarcely even tried to fill that blank with her 1967 biography.) Ms Coleman has restored those lost years and we must all thank her.
The sources for the period are a bit limited, but Ms Coleman deploys them with great skill to achieve maximum value, exploring substantial American manuscript holdings as well as the archives of Life and Labor, the magazine that Franklin edited with fellow Australian Alice Henry. Ms Coleman fills in the details of Franklin’s career with the National Women’s Trade Union League but her most curious discoveries are from neglected pocket diaries of 1909–16.