Miles Franklin

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Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (14 October 1879 – 19 September 1954), known as Miles Franklin, was an Australian writer and feminist who is best known for her novel My Brilliant Career, published by Blackwoods of Edinburgh in 1901. While she wrote throughout her life, her other major literary success, All That Swagger, was not published until 1936.

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She was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature, and she actively pursued this goal by supporting writers, literary journals, and writers' organisations. She has had a long-lasting impact on Australian literary life through her endowment of a major annual prize for literature about "Australian Life in any of its phases", the Miles Franklin Award. Her impact was further recognised in 2013 with the creation of the Stella Prize, awarded annually for the best work of literature by an Australian woman.

Franklin was born at Talbingo, New South Wales, and grew up in the Brindabella Valley on a property called Brindabella Station. She was the eldest child of Australian-born parents, John Maurice Franklin and Susannah Margaret Eleanor Franklin, née Lampe, who was the great-granddaughter of Edward Miles (or Moyle) who had arrived with the First Fleet in the Scarborough with a seven-year sentence for theft. Her family was a member of the squattocracy. She was educated at home until 1889 when she attended Thornford Public. During this period she was encouraged in her writing by her teacher, Mary Gillespie (1856–1938) and Tom Hebblewhite (1857–1923) editor of the local Goulburn newspaper.

Her best-known novel, My Brilliant Career, tells the story of an irrepressible teenage girl, Sybylla Melvyn, growing to womanhood in rural New South Wales. It was published in 1901 with the support of Australian writer, Henry Lawson. After its publication, Franklin tried a career in nursing, and then as a housemaid in Sydney and Melbourne. Whilst doing this she contributed pieces to The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald under the pseudonyms "An Old Bachelor" and "Vernacular." During this period she wrote My Career Goes Bung in which Sybylla encounters the Sydney literary set, but it was not released to the public until 1946. An overtly anti-war play, The Dead Must Not Return, was not published or performed but received a public reading in September 2009.

Franklin resettled in Australia in 1932 after the death of her father in 1931. During that decade she wrote several historical novels of the Australian bush, although most of these were published under the pseudonym "Brent of Bin Bin". New South Wales State Librarian, Dagmar Schmidmaier, said: "Miles increasingly feared that nothing she wrote matched the success of My Brilliant Career and resorted to writing under different names, including the bizarre pseudonym Brent of Bin Bin, to protect herself from poor reviews." However, All That Swagger was published under her own name in 1936, winning the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize. Franklin also won the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize in 1939 together with Kate Baker for their collaborative work 'Who Was Joseph Furphy?'.

Throughout her life, Franklin actively supported Australian literature. She joined the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1933 and the Sydney PEN Club in 1935. She encouraged young writers such as Jean Devanny, Sumner Locke Elliott and Ric Throssell and she supported the new literary journals, Meanjin and Southerly. Miles entertained literary figures at her home in Carlton, NSW. An autograph book known as Miles Franklin's Waratah Book held by the State Library of NSW was used for autographs and inscriptions. Guests were encouraged to drink tea from the Waratah Cup and to write in the Waratah Book.

In 1937, Franklin declined appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

It has been alleged that Franklin was a member of the pro-isolationist, anti-war and anti-semitic Australia First Movement as she attended three public meetings of the AFM in December 1941, and had a close association with its leaders. In fact Franklin was vehemently opposed to the political views of each of the leaders of the AF movement, Adela Pankhurst Walsh and P.R. Stephenson, as evidenced by her diary entries and correspondence at the time - "Reds or pinks or 'rightists' all showed their ignorance" she wrote after one attendance, and of Stephenson "I could not have anything to do with his politics". Her long-time association with 'Inky' Stephenson was a literary one, and her attendance at these large public meetings should be seen in the context of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) and the high political temperature of the time. Franklin was staunchly anti-war and, traumatised by her WWI experiences, very much feared a war on Australian soil at this time. In this period of her life, Franklin was a constant attendee and speaker at various cultural and literary events. Her message centred on free speech and the championing of Australian literature.

While Miles Franklin had many suitors, she never married. She died on 19 September 1954, aged 74, and her ashes were scattered in Jounama Creek, Talbingo close to where she was born.

Miles Franklin engaged in a number of literary collaborations throughout her life. In addition to co-editing the journal Life and Labor with Alice Henry in the US, she also wrote Pioneers on Parade in collaboration with Dymphna Cusack and a biography of Joseph Furphy (1944) "in painful collaboration with Kate Baker". Previously, in 1939, she and Baker had won the Prior Memorial prize for an essay on Furphy.

Dever writes that the letters between Dymphna Cusack and Miles Franklin that are published in Yarn Spinners "provide a see-sawing commentary on the delicate art of literary collaboration".

In her will, she made a bequest for her estate to establish an annual literary award known as The Miles Franklin Award. The first winner was Patrick White with Voss in 1957.

The Canberra suburb of Franklin and the nearby primary school Miles Franklin Primary School is named in her honour. The school holds an annual writing competition in her memory. Additionally the Franklin Public School in Tumut, NSW is also named in her honour.

During her lifetime Miles Franklin donated several items to the Mitchell Library. Manuscript material was presented over the period 1937–1942. The various drafts of "Pioneers on Parade" were presented in 1940. She bequeathed her printed book collection, correspondence, and notes as well as the poems of Mary Fullerton. 47 of Miles Franklin's diaries are in the State Library of New South Wales, including one copy discovered in 2018.

A revival of interest in Franklin occurred in the wake of the Australian New Wave film My Brilliant Career (1979), which won several international awards.

In 2014, Google Doodle celebrated her 135th birthday.


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