Franklin, Miles (1879–1954)

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Franklin, Miles (1879–1954)

One of Australia's most authentic voices, whose first novel, the semi-autobiographical My Brilliant Career (1901), and later works of fiction and nonfiction brought her enduring fame in the English-speaking world. Name variations: (pseudonym) Brent of Bin-Bin. Born Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin in Australia at Talbingo, near Canberra, New South Wales, on October 14, 1879; died at home of a heart attack in Carlton, near Sydney, on September 19, 1954; eldest child of John Maurice Franklin (a grazier and farmer) and Susannah Margaret Lampe Franklin (a cultivated woman who raised seven children and worked hard throughout her life); educated at home by her mother and a private tutor until age ten, after which she completed her formal studies at age fourteen in a oneteacher school; never married; no children.

Dreams of a musical career were dashed when an extended drought ruined the family's fortunes (1889); worked long and toil-laden hours helping her parents run a small dairy farm (1889–99); completed her first and best-known novel, My Brilliant Career (1899); moved to Sydney and Melbourne, where she continued writing and became interested in social and economic reform movements (1901); left Australia for U.S. (late 1905), settling in Chicago (1906) where she became secretary of the Women's Trade Union League and helped edit its publication, Life and Labor; had her third novel, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, published by Blackwood (1909); rejected by publishers for only novel to take place in the U.S., On Dearborn Street (1914); moved to England (1915), working with re-form groups in London and serving for six months (1917–18) as a volunteer with the Scottish Women's Hospital in the Balkans; during the most intense creative period in her life, wrote six novels about pioneering days in 19th-century Australia under the pseudo-nym Brent of Bin-Bin, which mystified only strangers to her previous fiction (1925–31); returned to Australia (1932) where she published what is regarded as her masterpiece, All That Swagger (1936); devoted the last 18 years of her life to promoting Australian literature and keeping up a voluminous correspondence with friends in Australia, U.S., and Great Britain.


Miles Franklin was a prolific but uneven writer who completed some 16 novels, 13 of which were published in her lifetime or after her death. Of these, her first and last novels, My Brilliant Career (1901) and All That Swagger (1936), are universally regarded as her best fiction. Her posthumously published memoir, Childhood at Brindabella (1963) is considered her finest work of nonfiction.

Miles Franklin, one of Australia's best-known and most original writers, was, as she herself noted, a child of the mighty bush. Born Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin at Talbingo, north of Canberra in New South Wales, she spent the first ten years of her life on a large property at Brindabella some 70 miles from Talbingo. There her parents, John Maurice Franklin and Susannah Lampe Franklin , raised and sold cattle and sheep. Franklin's posthumously published memoir, Childhood at Brindabella, chronicles the idyllic life she and her siblings lived there. The Franklins were well-off and could afford servants as well as a private tutor for their children. At Brindabella, Miles Franklin learned to ride a horse almost as soon as she was able to walk, and she enjoyed horseback riding into her 70s. She spent part of each day working alongside the station workers and the rest of the day studying, reading, and learning to play the piano her mother had brought to Brindabella as a bride.

Australia has only one large river system, and even well-watered regions, as Brindabella, are subject to periodic and devastating droughts. In 1889, an extended dry spell brought the idyll at Brindabella to an end, and the Franklins were forced to sell their dwindling stock and the ranch. They moved to Thornburn, northeast of Canberra and near the cathedral city of Goul-burn. There John Franklin took up dairy farming on a relatively small property of about 1,000 acres which they called Stillwater for its nearby lagoons. In Franklin's first and best-known novel, My Brilliant Career, she ruefully noted that her parents "had dropped from swelldom to peasantism." Miles and her siblings continued their education at a one-teacher school and then spent hours each day helping their mother milk the cows, tend the garden, prepare meals, clean the house, and do the laundry. Franklin never forgot how their hands and arms swelled from the milking. In fact, the pain from milking was so extreme as to disturb their sleep.

Franklin grew up loving books and music, but the family's poverty prevented her from pursuing a musical career or attending a university. She found an outlet for her rage and frustration over the "lifeless life" she and her family endured at Stillwater by writing about it. When she was barely 20, Franklin completed a semi-autobiographical work that she ironically entitled My Brilliant(?) Career. (The question mark was later dropped by the publisher.) Franklin characterized it as neither a romance nor a novel, "but simply a yarn—a real yarn." This assertion was to haunt Franklin for the rest of her days, and when My Brilliant Career was published in 1901 many of her relatives and neighbors and other bush Australians were upset and outraged, not so much by the rebelliousness of its feminist heroine, Sybylla Melvyn, as by the novel's negative depiction of many of Sybylla's family, relatives, neighbors, and other bush dwellers.

In My Brilliant Career, Franklin not only railed against the narrowness, monotony, and absolute uncongeniality of life in Possum Gully, as she called Stillwater, but also rebelled against the circumscribed role and unequal position of women in late 19th-century Australian society. Franklin expressed her antipathy to marriage time and again in her narrative, stating emphatically

that "marriage to me appeared the most horrible tied-down and unfair-to-women existence going."

While Miles Franklin had harsh things to say about men in her first works, it was men who came to her aid early in her career. When she was unable to find a publisher in Australia for My Brilliant Career, she appealed to Henry Lawson, Australia's leading poet and short-story writer, to take the manuscript with him on his return to England. While Australian publishers found the story of an angry and rebellious young woman too frank, too daring, and too uncompromising in its feminism, Lawson and Black-wood's of Edinburgh were charmed and captivated by the spontaneity, originality, vitality, and earthiness of My Brilliant Career. There was not a trace of pretentiousness, affectation, or humbug in it, nor, for that matter, in any of her later novels and other writings.

When Blackwood's of Edinburgh published My Brilliant Career in 1901, with an appreciative introduction by Lawson, the novel received enthusiastic reviews by mostly male critics in England and Australia. In September of 1901, A.G. Stephens, critic and editor of Australia's leading literary journal, The Bulletin, praised My Brilliant Career, calling it the first truly Australian novel. Stephens noted that "the author has the Australian mind; she speaks Australian language, utters Australian thoughts and looks at things from an Australian point of view absolutely." Another champion was Joseph Furphy, author of the classic novel, Such Is Life, who encouraged Franklin to keep on writing and to ignore negative reactions to her work.

Franklin kept on writing, but she was deeply hurt by the continuing controversy over My Brilliant Career. Mortified by the uproar she had caused, she left Stillwater and moved, first to Sydney and then to Melbourne. She hoped to become a journalist, but to pay her way and gather firsthand information about domestic service, she became, for a time, a "Mary Anne," that is, a maid. In both Sydney and Melbourne, Franklin found the praise, the appreciation, and the congeniality that she had longed for. In both cities, she was befriended by the literary elite, social reformers and feminists, and made the first of a series of lifelong friendships. Rose Scott (1847–1925) who labored long and hard for woman suffrage (granted in 1902), prison re-form, as well as decent wages, hours and working conditions, welcomed Franklin to her literary salon and introduced her to Sydney's leading writers, poets, philanthropists and politicians. Another lifelong friend was Vida Goldstein (1869–1949) also a prominent reformer who, like Rose Scott, found that life was too short to devote to the service of one man. These and other prominent single women were important role models for Franklin, and they strengthened her resolve to devote her life to writing, to social reform, and to the encouragement of Australian literature.

By 1904, Franklin had completed her second novel, My Career Goes Bung, which satirized the pretentiousness of the social and political elites of Sydney and Melbourne. However, no Australian publisher would touch it for fear of libel suits, and the sequel to My Brilliant Career did not appear until 1946, by which time Franklin was universally honored as one of Australia's leading writers.

Discouraged by her foundering career in journalism and her inability to publish My Career Goes Bung in her native country, in April 1906 Franklin sailed from Melbourne to San Francisco. She was urged on by her friend Vida Goldstein, who provided Franklin with letters of introduction to reformers and suffragists whom Goldstein had met in San Francisco and Chicago a few years before. Franklin stayed in San Francisco briefly, and then moved to Chicago, where she came under the wing of a compatriot, Alice Henry . Henry was one of the leading reformers of her day, and she introduced Franklin to Jane Addams , Mary Anderson , Lillian Wald , Margaret Dreier Robins (seeDreier Sisters), and other outstanding champions of progressive causes, including women's rights, prison reform, and social legislation protecting all workers.

In 1907, Margaret Dreier Robins, leader of the National Women's Trade Union League, invited Franklin to serve as the League's secretary, a position she held until 1915. In addition, between 1912 and 1915 Franklin helped Alice Henry edit the League's influential publication, Life and Labor. Despite her many duties with the League, Franklin continued to write fiction and in 1909 Blackwood's published Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, a plea for sexual equality set in contemporary Australia. However, she could find no publisher for her fourth novel, On Dearborn Street, which was one of only two of the thirteen novels she published which were set outside Australia. Despite Franklin's inability to find an American publisher for On Dearborn Street, she always looked back on her nine years in the United States as a time of excitement, struggle and camaraderie. After Franklin left the states in 1915, she continued corresponding with her American friends to the end of their days or hers.

The coming of World War I weakened and derailed the Women's Trade Union League, the pacifist movement, and most American reform movements in general. Franklin had a falling out with Robins (they reconciled later and wrote to each other until Robins' death in 1948), left the league, and in 1915 decided to move to England. In London, Franklin became involved with re-form groups and eventually found work with the National Housing and Planning Council, a philanthropic organization located in Bloomsbury. Australian poet and novelist Mary Fullerton , and Fullerton's patron and friend Mabel Singleton , befriended Franklin and invited her to share their London home. Franklin later repaid their kindness by championing Fullerton's writing and seeing to the publication of her poetry in their native Australia.

In the latter part of 1917, Franklin, a lifelong pacifist, decided to join the Scottish Women's Hospital, serving as a cook and then an orderly in battle-scarred Salonika in Macedonia.

Unfortunately, she had to leave her post in February 1918 (and forfeit her year's salary of £25) when she contracted malaria. While recovering in London, Franklin wrote an account of her experiences in the Balkans. Ne Mari Nishti (It Matters Nothing) is one of about 30 of Franklin's manuscripts—plays, short stories and three novels—that in 1999 remained unpublished.

I am proud that I am an Australian, a daughter of the Southern Cross, a child of the mighty bush. I am thankful I am a peasant, a part of the bone and muscle of my nation, and earn my bread by the sweat of my brow.

—Miles Franklin

In late 1923, Franklin returned to Australia for the first time in 18 years to visit her aging parents and her surviving siblings. Years before, in 1915, Franklin's parents had given up farming and bought a home in the modest suburb of Carlton, near Sydney. From Carlton, Franklin made visits to Brindabella and Stillwater. This visit and a subsequent one in 1927 unleashed a creative flood that, between 1927 and 1933, resulted in the writing of six novels about pioneering life in 19th-century Brindabella, Talbingo, and other locations in the high Monaro region of New South Wales. Most of them were written at a desk in the British Museum, where Franklin could work undisturbed. Wishing to avoid any association with her controversial first novel, Franklin adopted the pseudonym of Brent of Bin-Bin. When close friends asked her why, Franklin replied that mysteries and secrets were great for publicity and aroused the reading public's curiosity. In 1928, Up the Country, the first of the six Bin-Bin novels to be published, won universal praise in Australia. Ten Creeks Run (1930) and Back to Bool Bool (1931) were not as enthusiastically received but sold relatively well despite the onset of the Great Depression. The remaining three Bin-Bin novels, Prelude to Waking, Cockatoos, and Gentlemen at Gyany Gyang, did not appear until the 1950s.

In 1931, Franklin learned of the death of her father, and the following year she returned to Australia for good to take care of her ailing mother. After Susannah Franklin died in 1938, her daughter Miles lived alone at Carlton until her own death 16 years later. The Bin-Bin novels and Franklin's masterpiece All That Swagger (1936), a novel inspired by the life of her Irish grandfather Joseph Franklin, elevated her to celebrity status. She used her fame to advance her last great cause: Australian literature. Between 1936 and 1954, Franklin joined many groups and associations that encouraged all writers, young and old. She lectured on Australian literature at Perth's university and, with Kate Baker, co-authored a biography of the novelist Joseph Furphy. In addition, she single-handedly revived interest in the poetry and prose of another dear friend, Mary Fullerton. Lastly, Franklin lived very frugally to endow a Pulitzer-like annual literary award. After Franklin's death, the first recipient of the Miles Franklin Award was Patrick White, author of the highly acclaimed novel Voss. Years later, White was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Franklin passionately believed, as she told one of her many friends, the writer Florence James, that "without an indigenous literature people can remain aliens on their own soil." Thanks to Miles Franklin's pioneering novels set in Australia's vast interior, and to the work of subsequent writers, Australians are not strangers in their own land.

After the posthumous publication of a memoir that is regarded as Franklin's third masterpiece, Childhood at Brindabella (1963), interest in her work declined by the late 1960s. However, the revival of feminism in Australia in the early 1970s brought a renewed interest in Franklin's work. The international acclaim accorded the 1979 cinema version of My Brilliant Career, a film written, directed and produced by Australian women, brought back into print a number of Franklin's best novels. In addition, since 1979 dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, two biographies and two editions of Franklin's letters have appeared. Miles Franklin, who prized friendship above all other human relationships, would have been delighted to know how many more friends she has made since her passing.


Barnard, Marjorie. Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian. St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1988.

Coleman, Verna. Miles Franklin in America: Her Un-known (Brilliant) Career. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1981.

Ferrier, Carole, ed. Gender, Politics, and Fiction: Twentieth Century Australian Women's Novels. St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1992.

Modjeska, Drusilla. Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers, 1925–1945. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1981.

Roderick, Colin Arthur. Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career. Adelaide: Rigby, 1982.

Roe, Jill, ed. My Congenials: Miles Franklin and Friends in Letters. 2 vols. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1993.

suggested reading:

Franklin, Miles. Childhood at Brindabella. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963.

——. My Brilliant Career. Edinburgh: Blackwood and Sons, 1901.

——. My Career Goes Bung. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1981.

related media:

My Brilliant Career (98 min. film), starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill, New South Wales-GUO-Analysis, 1980.

Anna Macias , Professor Emerita of History, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio

Baker, Kate (1861–1953)

Australian teacher and literary benefactor. Born Catherine Baker on April 23, 1861, in Cappoquin, County Waterford, Ireland; died in 1953 in Australia; educated in Australian public schools; never married; no children. Awarded the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE, 1937).

Selected works:

(editor) The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916); (with Miles Franklin) Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book (1944).

Kate Baker is known to Australians for her unflagging support of author Joseph Furphy. Without Baker, Furphy may well have remained an unknown; without Furphy, Baker most certainly would have. Born in Ireland in 1861, she was the youngest of a large Irish brood, whose father died within three months of her birth. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Williamstown, Victoria, Australia, where Baker's mother brought up her children with a firm hand and urged conformity; thus Kate dedicated herself to teaching rather than poetry. Trained in the public schools of her region, she began to teach for the Victoria School Department in 1881.

Rural Australia offered ample opportunity for young teachers to gain experience, and Baker was sent to head the Wanalta Creek State School in January of 1886. There, she lodged with Isaac Furphy, taking on the schooling of four of his six children. The large Furphy family was close-knit, and Baker met them all except the elusive Joseph. After one year boarding with Isaac and traveling six miles a day to and from her school, she moved to patriarch Samuel Furphy's home, where she was treated like a daughter.

When Baker met Joseph Furphy in October of 1887, "He talked and I listened and questioned," Baker wrote. "In this opportunity to talk to a congenial listener he seemed like a thirsty man at a spring of cool water." The 44-year-old Joseph Furphy, whose wife Leonie was not intellectually inclined, found a malleable, intelligent mind in the 25-year-old Baker, and they became frequent correspondents.

Though no evidence exists that their relationship was improper, at least one love letter, written by Baker during a near-death illness, caused such scandal that she lost the friendship of every Furphy but Joseph, who staunchly defended her. Though many letters were destroyed and defaced, no overtly amorous ones exist. Baker was certainly in love with Furphy, but knew him to be married and generally uninterested. As her friend Miles Franklin noted, Kate "lives and breathes and thinks only of Furphy. He is her monomania."

Baker was Furphy's critic, editor and benefactor. Until he became financially independent with the bestseller Such is Life, which introduced the character of Tom Collins, she provided funding for early publications. Teaching remained her livelihood until 1913, but Furphy was her life. His death of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was 51 caused her to have an emotional breakdown. But perpetuating his work gave her new purpose. Baker spent her remaining 40 years editing and publishing his poetry, and she reissued his most famous book. The biography, Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book, written with Franklin and released in 1944, created a glorified picture of Furphy, in part, because Franklin did not wish to hurt Baker or her subject's family, in part, because Franklin was blinded by their vision of Furphy as a hero.

For her efforts on behalf of Furphy, an Australian national legend, Baker was awarded the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1937. She lived well into her 90s as Furphy's literary widow.


Barnes, John. The Order of Things. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Franklin, Miles, and Kate Baker. Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1944.

Furphy, Joseph, and John Barnes, ed. Joseph Furphy. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1981.

Wilde, William H., Joy Horton, and Barry Andrews, ed. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Crista Martin, reelance writer, Boston, Massachusetts

James, Florence (b. 1904)

New Zealand-born writer. Born in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1904; graduated from the University of Sydney.

Florence James, and her co-author Dymphna Cusack , published the children's book Four Winds and a Family in 1947 and the novel Come in Spinner in 1951.

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Franklin, Miles (1879–1954)

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