My Brilliant Career may not be Belvoir’s first post-pandemic show, but it’s surely the most joyous. Hot on the heels of a government exemption raising audience numbers to seventy-five per cent capacity, the mood on opening night was exuberant – almost as exuberant as Sybylla Melvyn, My Brilliant Career’s impossible yet impossible-not-to-love protagonist.
Miles Franklin’s autobiographical first novel had a famously rocky start. When it was published in 1901, the twenty-one-year-old author had two requests: that her name be changed to the masculine ‘Miles’, to avoid any paternalistic critiques; and that the novel’s self-deprecating title, ‘My Brilliant(?) Career’, be retained. Both were ignored: publishers removed the question mark; and while Miles Franklin was credited as the author, Stella was outed as ‘just a little bush girl’ by poet Henry Lawson in his preface to the text. Moreover, Franklin herself had a complicated relationship with the work, demanding that it be withdrawn from publication nine years later, and writing in its stead the ‘corrective’ sequel, My Career Goes Bung, which was published in 1946.