Miles Franklin

In December 1982, publisher Richard Walsh commissioned a ‘life and times of Miles Franklin’ from historian Jill Roe. The book ‘has been a long time coming’, says Roe, ‘due to other commitments and responsibilities, and because of the extent of previously unexamined source material.’ That source material – letters, articles, unpublished manuscripts, journals – exists in quantities that can be inferred from Roe’s comment near the end of the book, where she is describing Franklin’s final illness: that ‘from 1 January 1909 to 1 January 1954, there is some kind of record of what Miles Franklin was doing on virtually every day of her life.’

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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.

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After My Brilliant Career appeared in 1901, Miles Franklin spent a few years living in Sydney, where she enjoyed being fêted as a new literary sensation. Her attempt to earn a living by writing fiction and journalism about women’s issues was less than successful; even the timely and witty suffrage novel, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909), was knocked back at first. In 1906, at the age of twenty-six, she left Australia for the United States. She spent the next nine years living in Chicago and working for the Women’s Trade Union League, secretary to its wealthy patron, Margaret Dreier Robins, and editing its journal, Life and Labour, with her compatriot Alice Henry. The two Australians enjoyed recognition as enfranchised women, a status that American women were still fighting for.

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This novel raises more interesting questions about its author than about its characters and action.

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My Brilliant Career, the book Miles Franklin published in 1901 when she was twenty-one, cast a shadow over her entire life. It sold well and made her famous for a time, but it did not lead to the publication of more works. The glittering literary career foretold by the critics did not eventuate, at least in Franklin’s opinion. ‘The thing that puzzles me,’ she wrote to Mary Fullerton on New Year’s Day, 1929, ‘is how are we to know whether we are a dud or not at the beginning; I mean how long should a poor creature smitten with the egotism that he can write, keep on in face of rebuffs’.

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News from the Editor's Desk - August 2017

Australian Book Review
Sunday, 23 July 2017

Jolley Prize, Fay Zwicky (1933-2017), Miles Franklin Award shortlist, Porter Prize, Conversational Calibre, Memoirs of historians, Philip Roth ...

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News from the the Editor's Desk in the August issue of Australian Book Review.

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Patrick Allington questions ‘What is Australia, anyway?’

Patrick Allington
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
‘Arran Avenue, Hamilton, Brisbane, Australia ... Why Australia? What is Australia, anyway?’ 
(Dante, in David Malouf’s Johnno)

Some footy talk before the book chat: I saw Wayne Carey play once, in Adelaide. He was a puppeteer that day. You would have needed a panoramic view – television doesn’t capture ...