Miles Franklin – A Brilliant Legacy

Day 160 of Colourisation Project – October 14

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, better known as Miles Franklin, Australian writer and feminist was born this day, 14 October 1879 at Talbingo, New South Wales. She is best known for her debut novel My Brilliant Career, written at the age of 18 and published in 1901, the year of Federation in Australia.

The novel was rejected by local publishers, so Franklin sent it to Henry Lawson, who deemed it ‘the first great Australian novel.’ He wrote a preface for it and helped her secure a publisher in Britain.

Miles_franklin Bef & Aft

Photographer Unknown ~ Miles Franklin circa 1940s ~ Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Franklin did not want her work judged by the prejudices of the time, nor did she want her readers to assume that its author was a woman.  She asked her publishers to remove the title ‘Miss’ as it was her intention that her readers should believe it was written by ‘a bald-headed seer of the sterner sex’. Henry Lawson upon reading the manuscript was baffled by the author’s gender. Writing to Franklin, he asked her: ‘Will you write and tell me what you really are? man or woman?’

In his preface, Lawson blows Franklin’s cover.

I hadn’t read three pages when I saw what you will no doubt see at once—that the story had been written by a girl. And as I went on I saw that the work was Australian—born of the bush. I don’t know about the girlishly emotional parts of the book—I leave that to girl readers to judge; but the descriptions of bush life and scenery came startlingly, painfully real to me, and I know that, as far as they are concerned, the book is true to Australia—the truest I ever read.

As Franklin had feared, gender inflected the critical appraisal of her novel. Her identity as a woman writer evoked judgements about its literary merit in a chauvinistic Australia at the turn of the twentieth century. In disowning its ‘girlishly emotional’ parts Lawson clearly draws a distinction between himself and ‘girl readers’, ignoring Franklin’s deep ambivalence about male privilege in the literary field.

Nonetheless it became an instant hit in the UK and an international publishing sensation. Back in Australia controversy erupted however, over the similarities between the lives of the protagonist, Sybylla and Franklin herself. As they saw it, members of her family and some neighbours were enraged at seeing themselves ‘caricatured’ so harshly that they threatened to sue for damages. Deeply affected by their adverse reaction, Franklin withdrew My Brilliant Career from further publication until after her death.

Her next major literary success did not come until 1936 when All That Swagger, was published by the Bulletin restoring her place in the literary world. Hailed as an instant classic, it was awarded the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize for Australian literature.

Franklin herself was committed to fostering a uniquely Australian literature, and actively supported writers, literary journals, and writers’ organisations. Franklin’s legacy is her long-lasting impact on Australian literary life through the premier literary award known as The Miles Franklin Award.  After her death, part of Franklin’s estate was bequeathed to establishing this annual literary award to support and encourage Australian authors.

The Miles Franklin Award has become one of the most prestigious prizes in Australian literature, offering novelists and playwrights an elevated literary status and a considerable prize purse.  Each year the award goes to the novel judged to be of the highest literary merit and which “must present Australian Life in any of its phases”.

The first winner was Patrick White with Voss in 1957. Since then, the annual announcement of the winner has become a much anticipated event throughout Australia and around the world. This year’s prize with a purse of $60, 000 was awarded to Evie Wyld for her novel, All The Birds, Singing.

In 2013 her legacy was further entrenched with the creation of the Stella Prize, to be awarded annually for the best work of literature by an Australian woman.

Miles Franklin published nineteen novels before her death in 1954 at the age of 74. Her ashes were scattered on Jounama Creek, Talbingo.


“Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.”   –  Miles Franklin

This entry was posted in Australia, Colorization, Colourisation, Literature, Opus Loredana, Photography, Women, Women in Literature, Women writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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