My Brilliant Career Summary , Characters and Themes

 My Brilliant Career Summary and Themes

My Brilliant Career Summary , Characters and Themes  "My Brilliant Career" is a novel by Australian author Miles Franklin, first published in 1901. The story is set in rural Australia in the late 19th century and follows the life of a young woman named Sybylla Melvyn as she struggles against the limitations placed on her gender and socio-economic status..

Through her experiences, the novel explores themes of independence, self-discovery, and the tension between traditional and progressive values. The novel is considered a classic of Australian literature and has been adapted into several films.


My Brilliant Career Summary  - Sybylla Melyvn is a well-known character in adolescent literature, films, and television shows: she is hypersensitive yet honest to the point of rudeness. She is also rebellious, dissatisfied with anything other than endless horizons, and wary of any attempt to control or contain her fiercely independent spirit. Sybylla is certain that she is special and destined for an extraordinary life, but she is deeply unhappy with who she is and how others perceive her. My Brilliant Career Summary

Sybylla is a character easy to dislike—and Franklin understands that. The character reveals an insufferable ego, much like any adolescent: “I am afflicted with the power of thought, which is a heavy curse” (77). This is the story of the maturation of an artist and writer. What defines Sybylla’s character and puts her egotism into relief is the novel’s frame. The story is told by Sybylla looking back on her tempestuous and emotional adolescence and trying to stay honest to that naïve and adolescent tone in the writing.

As a result, Sybylla can appear dramatic as she moves emotionally towards the novel's final epiphany. She is determined to find the contentment and emotional depth she lacks in her life through her writing. There would be no greater fear for a sensitive adolescent girl at the turn of the century than settling for the domesticity of marriage and children. Sybylla is intelligent, well-read, and artistically gifted; she wishes to be defined by her talents. She desires a brilliant career in which the word "brilliant" is not ironic. As a teen, she longs for a future in which she can be herself. Her name is derived from the sybils, Greek mythological figures who can see into the future. My Brilliant Career Summary

My Brilliant Career Summary , Characters and Themes



Sybylla's society tells her she should want Harry Beechum, but he is the last thing such a free spirit needs.

In a traditional romance, Harry would be the ideal suitor. He is attractive, athletically strong, wealthy, coolly confident, capable of shoeing a horse with the same dexterity as he plays the piano, and a man who enjoys playing and having fun. In a world of babbling idiots, Harry is noticeably quiet, preferring to speak only when he has something to say.

He is an old-school gentleman: When he loses most of his fortune, he gallantly excuses Sybylla from their engagement and promises he will return only when he has recovered financial stability. And when Sybylla tells him, by mail no less, that she cannot pursue their engagement, he steps back without second-guessing Sybylla’s decision. Instead, he heads off to America to sort through the devastation to his heart. My Brilliant Career Summary  , Yes, he has a temper, but he keeps it largely in check until Sybylla capriciously sets out to provoke him at her birthday dinner; and yes, he is jealous of the attention other eligible bachelors pay to Sybylla, but that signals the authenticity of her love and his unwillingness to play games with the heart. He is earnest in his declaration of love.

As Sybylla's grandmother and mother repeatedly tell her, Harry would be ideal for her. His unforgivable flaw is that he believes he can lay claim to her. Even Sybylla realises that when she turns him down for the final time, she has given up her last, best chance to escape Possum Gully.

My Brilliant Career Summary  Yes, he is the "ideal" suitor, but he is also a clear and present danger to a young woman who aspires to be an artist, accepts loneliness as a given, and sees any genuine emotional displays as a sign of weakness.



Dick Melvyn, Sybylla's unlucky father, is the tragic figure in My Brilliant Career. Following the novel's publication, Franklin faced widespread criticism, not for her portrayal of a free-spirited, rebellious Australian adolescent girl, but for her stark and honest depiction of the dark and depressing life of Australia's farming culture, embodied most ingloriously by Dick Melvyn.

My Brilliant Career Summary  Nothing better suggests Dick Melvyn’s character than the opening scene in the book. A loving father, Dick takes his oldest daughter with him to drop salt. Sybylla is only three. She is surprised when she sees a black snake curled up in the deep fern along the river. Her father nobly interferes to save his panicking daughter, but in his clumsy efforts to pull her away to safety, he burns her fingers with his ever-present pipe. Every noble thing Dick does leads to unintended disaster.

With no qualifications save his noble ambition to provide for his family, Dick gambles the family’s little money to make a go of sheep farming. He is Sybylla’s hero when she is a young, happy-go-lucky dreamer—but his incompetence and naïve trust in others leads to his spiral into alcoholism and bankruptcy. He is a victim of his poor judgment and unforeseeable bad luck, most notably the brutal two year-long drought. Unlike Harry, who rebounds from financial collapse, Dick falls but never gets back up. My Brilliant Career Summary , Driven to stay afloat through resorting to the equivalent of loan sharks, Dick quickly finds comfort only in self-medicating with alcohol. He becomes a laughingstock in town and an embarrassment to his children. As Sybylla admits when she returns from Five-Bob, her father is a “broken-down man” with a “miserable appearance and demeanor” (92) whom she barely recognizes, destroyed by his own virtues.



Sybylla’s grandmother offers her granddaughter ample emotional support. She is Sybylla’s go-to comforter when things go wrong— My Brilliant Career Summary  as, for instance, when she first arrives at the M’Swat farm. In this, Lucy Bossier is different from her daughter, Sybylla’s mother, who dismisses out of hand Sybylla’s quirky behavior, tomboyish ways, and sharp tongue.

But the reality reveals itself to Sybylla. Yes, her grandmother is sympathetic to Sybylla’s restless spirit, her naïve dreams of being an artist, and even her quirky ways with the several men who seek her hand. She is endlessly patient with her granddaughter’s diva-esque sense of her life’s hardships. And she provides her granddaughter with a sanctuary apart from the backwater world of Possum Gully.

However, the grandmother eventually reveals that she is very much of her own conservative time and place. Sybylla, she says, has a talent for the stage, but that's not what good girls do. Girls propose marriage and are content with taking their place next to a husband to raise a family. Sybylla's grandmother will not tolerate her rebellion in this regard.

My Brilliant Career Summary  Despite the evidence of her own dysfunctional family (Sybylla's mother is trapped in a loveless marriage, and her daughter Helen was abandoned by her loving husband for a younger woman), she will only counsel the wisdom of marriage and family. Lucy Bossier is not a hypocrite because of this; she is a product of her culture.


My Brilliant Career Summary

My Brilliant Career Summary  - Sybylla Melvyn moves with her family to 'Possum Gully,' a remote rural town in New South Wales, Australia, when she is nine years old. Dick, her father, is determined to run a 1000-acre sheep farm successfully. Dick, on the other hand, is unprepared for the harsh realities of running a farm, which becomes a financial liability. Meanwhile, Sybylla aspires to be a singer or a writer, which she refers to as her brilliant career. In the cultural backwaters of 'Possum Gully,' she suffers. Dick pursues ruinous loans to keep the farm running as it approaches bankruptcy.

Desperate, Sybylla is sent to live with her grandmother in distant Caddagat. Sybylla is relieved to be out of 'Possum Gully,' and she enjoys her grandmother's spacious home and her grandmother's gentle, if conservative, demeanour.

Sybylla meets the family attorney, Everard Grey, a man in his twenties who is immediately taken by Sybylla's attractive face and talents. Smitten, he proposes marriage to the 16-year-old girl. Sybylla, who has a low self-esteem, politely but firmly declines. Soon after, Frank Hawden, who manages the farm's livestock, proposes to Sybylla, telling her that when he turns 24, he will take over his family farm in England. Sybylla declines once more.

The nearest neighbor to her grandmother is the Beechum family, who owns the Five-Bob farm. When Sybylla meets Harry Beechum, the tall, ruggedly handsome, sunburned scion of the family, she is compelled in ways she does not entirely understand. He is quiet and coolly confident, and best of all he plays piano. The two form a friendship, though Sybylla is cautioned that Harry has a temper. When Harry’s family asks to “borrow” Sybylla to help out for a week or two, Sybylla eagerly accepts. Everything about Five-Bob is splendid, and Sybylla feels contented. Much of that contentment comes from her friendship with Harry.

When she returns to Caddagat, she and Harry continue to see each other until one of his visits, when Harry proposes marriage and presents Sybylla with an expensive diamond ring, a family heirloom. Sybylla agrees to wear it for three months before accepting the offer. Harry, a little perplexed, agrees. A few weeks later, at Sybylla's 17th birthday party, Harry, enraged by Sybylla's attention to other men at the party, insists on her acting more appropriately. Sybylla returns the ring but later apologises and vows to be more mindful of her actions.

Just weeks later, Harry confides in Sybylla that, because of numerous unexpected financial setbacks, he sold Five-Bob and is now essentially a pauper. Sybylla assures him that does not matter, but he promises to reboot his fortunes before Sybylla reaches marrying age, 21, and he departs for Sydney. Weeks pass, and Sybylla’s mother tells her that because of her father’s increasing debts, Sybylla is to work as a servant-governess for a family in distant Barney’s Gap. The father there loaned Dick a huge sum, and Dick could not repay it.

Sybylla despises life on the farm. The living conditions are primitive, the children are rambunctious, and her days are long and boring. She languishes for months until her family, fearing for her health, sends her back home, the debt forgiven.

Sybylla returns to find her father in a downward spiral of depression and illness. Her younger sister has gone to assist the Beechums. When Sybylla is at her lowest point, she receives a letter from Harry. He has a large sum of money and is eager to reclaim Five-Bob and repair their relationship. He declares his love for her once more.

Sybylla, on the other hand, declines him, determined to be a writer and seeing Harry's adoration as a sign that any marriage with him would be disastrous. Harry agrees to end their relationship and travels to America to process his emotions. Sybylla, who is initially depressed, decides she has had enough of despair and will devote herself to writing, proud to be an Australian and eager to capture that way of life.

My Brilliant Career Themes


Women have always played a major role in Australian society despite the stridently masculinist views and images that were dominant. This was particularly true in the nineteenth century when social reformers such as Catherine Spence affirmed the right of women to independence. Women moralists also asserted the virtues of temperance as alcoholism was a major vice among men in the nineteenth century. Women began to realize that their liberation could only begin by freeing themselves from bondage to a male world that tried to use them for its own purposes.

This also led to the interrogation of the institution of marriage and the idea of women being relegated to the domestic sphere. Reading My Brilliant Career through a 21st century lens, the revolt of Sybylla Melvyn can seem slight. But from a late 19th century perspective the narrative of Sybylla’s emotional evolution that climaxes in her determination to become a writer suggests a very radical perception of the role of women. Though still a teenager, Sybylla perceives the dimensions of the male-dominated culture in which she must live: “It was only men who could take the world by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking, were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of fate tossed them hither and thither” (76).

Sybylla, gazing so often in self-loathing into the mirror and aware, as at her birthday party, of the enchanting beauty of women that rendered them commodities in the marriage market, struggles with her emerging sense of a different kind of beauty and power. Within weeks, she receives three different marriage proposals and rejects them all. She believes that to be a strong woman, she must go it alone.

One of the quietest ironies occurs when Sybylla first arrives at Caddagat. Her doting aunt volunteers to direct the Pygmalion-like transformation of her ordinary niece into a woman of command and social grace—perfect for the competitive marriage market of the town. Even as Helen dotes on Sybylla, fusses with the girl’s tumble of red hair, and lays out the basic ground rules for dinner table politesse, Sybylla tells readers how her aunt had been left by a conniving husband who decided he would be happier with his much younger mistress. Helpless, Helen was left to a life of town shame and family pity. In her emotional devastation, however, Helen finds the requisite courage to survive with her dignity intact and to caution her young niece not to play around with marriage.


Elizabeth Webby notes that throughout the novel there are hints that Sybylla’s attitude to love and courtship have been influenced by her reading of popular romance fiction. When Sybylla arrives at Caddagat she is delighted to find a Marie Corelli novel and George du Maurier’s Trilby (1894) on the table.

In Chapter 20, the episode of Harold’s proposal of marriage is perhaps the best example of the impact of her reading on her attitude to love. Harold’s typically Australian matter of fact proposal totally devoid of any trappings of romance confuses Sybylla. Her response to this proposal to his attempted kiss of hitting him across the face with a riding whip also reveals her playing a stiff Victorian heroine. Miles Franklin wants her readers to notice Sybylla’s lack of judgement in matters of the heart. As Rachel Blau DuPlessis observes, romance plots are part of the deep, shared structures of Anglocentric culture. She believes that romance as a mode may have been historically activated when middle-class class women lost their economic power in the transition from pre-capitalist economies and were dispossessed of certain functions. DuPlessis believes that “the romance plot may be compensatory social and narrative practice”(2). While the domestic labour and childbearing duties of women were seen as important to achieving a strong Australian nation, they were relegated to the home with male authority being paramount.

Miles Franklin’s impatience with these marginal roles assigned to women and her inherently feminist outlook no doubt influenced her choice of narrative resolution in the novel. By refusing the scripts of romance and the goal of marriage she opened up alternative narrative possibilities for women in Australia.

When Harry most sincerely pitches his love, Sybylla realizes how fawning and dependent he is and how ultimately theirs would be a ruinous relationship. He wants to own her, Sybylla recalls: “I would be a two-edged sword in the hand of a novice” (102). An empowered woman here is a singular entity. Readers are accustomed to a contemporary sense of feminism in which women are united in a community as a collective voice demanding equal rights, respect, and dignity for an entire gender. Sybylla’s is a very lonely revolution.

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