Places: My Brilliant Career

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1901

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1890’s

Places DiscussedCaddagat

Caddagat. My Brilliant CareerName of the homestead belonging to Sybylla’s grandmother, near the fictional town of Gool-Gool in Australia’s New South Wales state. Modeled on Talbingo, the home of Miles Franklin’s grandmother. Caddagat exemplifies everything that Sybylla loves in life: art, music, literature, education, and congenial companionship. Sybylla relates that she was born in this house and that her earliest and fondest memories lie within. At sixteen, Sybylla rejoices when her grandmother invites her to live at Caddagat for a while, because Caddagat represents a respite from the constant drudgery of hard work that Sybylla performs while her father squanders money on bad stock market investments and alcohol.

Initially, Sybylla expects to be treated as an unwelcome poor relation, but she is immediately installed in a small, pretty bedroom of her own and made the pet of the household, which includes her sympathetic Aunt Helen. Much description is given to the details of Caddagat’s physical environment, including books, artwork, and comfortable furnishings, all of which reassure Sybylla that she is no longer entrapped by the mean poverty of her parents’ home.

The land surrounding Caddagat similarly provides Sybylla with a soothing environment; it is not only beautiful, but also capable of supporting the horses and livestock indispensable to life in the Australian Bush. Sybylla is easily accepted into the circle of gracious and genteel friends on neighboring stations, and, most important, she finds at Caddagat the type of mentally stimulating environment that she craves.

Barney’s Gap

Barney’s Gap. Small homestead near the fictional town of Yarung, New South Wales. Barney’s Gap clearly symbolizes the opposite of everything that Caddagat means to Sybylla. Her pleasant stay with her grandmother is cut short when her father arranges for her to work as a servant and governess in order to pay the interest on a loan on which he would otherwise default. Sybylla dreads leaving Caddagat, and Barney’s Gap is every bit as horrible as she expects, with no music or literature and nobody with whom to discuss such subjects. The house is filthy and the M’Swat children slovenly and uneducated. Sybylla cannot abide the sheer dirtiness of her surroundings, yet Barney’s Gap seems less intended to represent abject poverty than the dangers of intellectual starvation–indeed, Sybylla falls into such despair that she becomes ill and is finally sent back to her parents’ home.

Possum Gully

Possum Gully. One-thousand-acre farm near the fictional town of Goulburn, New South Wales. This location provides a comparative framework for the novel. When the book opens, Sybylla is about to move to Possum Gully at age nine with her parents and siblings, and she returns there from Barney’s Gap at the end of the novel. Figuratively, Possum Gully lies somewhere between the easy luxury of Caddagat and the mean, dirty ignorance of Barney’s Gap. Sybylla does not find life at Possum Gully as terrible as that at Barney’s Gap, but the dairy farming, which her family has been forced to take up, consists of hard physical labor with little reward. Upon first arriving, Sybylla observes that the flat, monotonous landscape seems dreary after the mountains near her first childhood home. Similarly, Goulburn is socially barren because most of the young people leave for better prospects elsewhere as soon as they are able. Just before Sybylla leaves for Caddagat to stay with her grandmother, a severe drought renders the landscape even more desolate.


Bruggabrong. Large cattle station leased by Sybylla’s father before he moves to Possum Gully. With its fellow stations, Bin-Bin East and Bin-Bin West, Bruggabrong totals nearly 200,000 acres among the Timlinbilly Ranges in New South Wales, representing the vastness of Australian stations, or ranches. Sybylla remembers her early years at Bruggabrong as a prosperous and happy time.

BibliographyBarnard, Marjorie. Miles Franklin. New York: Twayne, 1967. A lucid and comprehensive guide to Franklin’s life and works. An excellent starting point.Callil, Carmen. Introduction to My Brilliant Career. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. The essay establishes the initial modern perspective on the novel, a perspective debated since this reprinting.Coleman, Verna. Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career. London: Sirius, 1981. Discusses the novels in relation to the author’s life.Davis, Beatrice. “Tribute to Miles Franklin: A True Australian.” Southerly 16, no. 2 (1955): 83-85. Impressed by Franklin’s character, talent, and devotion to Australia, Davis provides a tribute and a chronicle in which she praises Franklin’s lyrical depiction of the Australian countryside, its pageants and traditions, and sympathizes with her criticism of the social order–in particular of the dull, drab, “hennishness” of women’s lives.Ewers, John K. Creative Writing in Australia: A Selective Survey. Rev. ed. Melbourne, Australia: Georgian House, 1966. Ewers compares the works of Joseph Furphy and Miles Franklin. He finds Franklin’s My Brilliant Career true to Australia, with a clear vision of reality and a scorn of pretense, and advises reading it together with its sequel, My Career Goes Bung (1946) for a clear picture of an “extraordinary mind.”Green, H. M. A History of Australian Literature, Pure and Applied. Vol. 1, 1789-1923. Sydney, Australia: Angus and Robertson, 1961. Contains a brief but perceptive discussion of Sybylla as heroine.Hadgraft, Cecil. “The New Century: First Harvest of Fiction.” In Australian Literature: A Critical Account to 1955. London: Heinemann, 1960. Although Hadgraft finds My Brilliant Career’s literary value to be unequal to its human interest and the dominating personality to be odd, he praises its setting, vocabulary, and circumstances as convincingly Australian, a “remarkable” achievement.Kennedy, Eileen. “My Brilliant Career.” Best Sellers 40, no. 11 (February, 1981): 389. Despite her criticism of plot devices reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and uneven stylistics that move from “clean honest” description of land and character to “stilted” pomposities, Kennedy praises Franklin’s complicated, finely drawn, self-destructive heroine and the tension between point of view and reader assessment of it.Mathew, Ray. Miles Franklin. Melbourne, Australia: Lansdowne Press, 1963. Psychological study of Franklin’s novels. Valuable observations on Sybylla’s almost pathological mistrust of emotion.Rose, Phyllis. “Her So-So Career.” The New York Times Book Review 86 (January 4, 1981): 8, 21. Rose criticizes the novel’s “stilted” language and “Byronic” romanticism, concluding that Sybylla’s feminism offers only a “silly” choice between an emotional life and a brilliant career.
Categories: Places