Stella Maraia Sarah Miles Franklin

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Stella Maraia Sarah Miles Franklin

Stella Maraia Sarah Miles Franklin (1879-1954) was an Australian novelist. A sound chronicler and a satirist, she wrote with a sure but sensitive touch on the theme of her country's pioneer settlers.

Miles Franklin was born in Talbingo in the open rangelands of southern New South Wales on Oct. 14, 1879. She absorbed the lore of the upland grazing country before her father became a homesteader in 1891 and began dairy farming near Goulburn, where she attended public school and came to be more directly influenced by the emerging nationalism.

Franklin's first novel, My Brilliant Career, was written in its original version when she was 16. She submitted it to the Bulletin, a journal chronicling episodes of bush life, and received favorable comment and suggestions for revisions. The book was published in Edinburgh in 1901, and its authenticity, rich vernacular, and buoyant outlook earned it instant success in Australia. Appearing in the wake of a succession of ballads, short stories, and verse in the local idiom, it was quickly identified as "the very first" Australian novel, the first, that is, which "could not have been written by a stranger or a sojourner."

The author's achievement was in her down-to-earth portrayal of the pioneers' struggle and her treatment of the theme of the heritage handed on to later generations. Nevertheless, My Brilliant Career ruffled the young author's relatives and friends, who believed themselves parodied in it. Concerned and hurt, Franklin wrote a sequel, My Career Goes Bung, but withheld it from publication until 1946.

After working briefly in Sydney as a free-lance journalist and developing a more active sympathy with the underdog, Franklin moved to the United States in 1902. In Chicago she undertook social work with the National Women's Trade Union League and its journal, Life and Labor. Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) had an Australian setting, but its strong political overtones, related to demands for woman's suffrage, robbed it of spontaneity. Moving to London, in World War I she worked as a hospital assistant and later as a political secretary.

After visiting Australia briefly in 1924, Franklin wrote three "photographic" novels of bush pioneering, Up the Country (1928), Ten Creeks Run (1930), and Back to Bool Bool (1931), all published under the pen name "Brent of Bin Bin." The third of the trio had a message in contemporary social problems. A humorous story of homestead-farm life, Old Blastus of Bandicoot, appeared under her own name in 1931.

In 1933 Franklin returned to live in Australia, and in 1936 her most widely acclaimed novel, All That Swagger, was published. An exposé of the frightening emptiness of the bush life and how its disappointments molded the lives of those trapped within it, the story is built around the indomitable character of a pioneer able to retain a zest for life in spite of setbacks.

Franklin's later writing included a literary biography, Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book, written in collaboration with Kate Baker (1944). Three "Brent of Bin Bin" books—Prelude to Waking, Cockatoos, and Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang—were published in the early 1950s; none broke new ground.

Miles Franklin died at Sydney on Sept. 19, 1954. She bequeathed extensive diaries to the Mitchell Library, Sydney, for eventual publication.

Further Reading

A comprehensive critical appreciation of Miles Franklin's work is given in H. M. Green, A History of Australian Literature, vol. 1 (1961). Concise sketches are given under "Brent of Bin Bin" and Miles Franklin, together with listings of her output, in Edmund M. Miller, Australian Literature: A Bibliography to 1938; Extended to 1950, edited by Frederick T. Macartney (1956).

Additional Sources

Coleman, Verna, Miles Franklin in America: her unknown (brilliant) career, London: Angus & Robertson, 1981.

Franklin, Miles, Childhood at Brindabella: my first ten years, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1974.

Roderick, Colin Arthur, Miles Franklin: her brilliant career, Adelaide; New York: Rigby, 1982. □