Review Blog

Aug 13 2019

Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin's brilliant career began by Libby Hathorn

cover image

Illus. by Phil Lesnie. Lothian 2019. ISBN: 9780734417879.
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Themes: Miles Franklin, Literature, Australian literature, Governess, Rural life. Sweeping painterly images draw the eyes across each page as Lesnie presents a young girl taking up a position as governess in rural New South Wales, a station near Yass, in the late nineteenth century. The text by foremost Australian writer, Libby Hathorn, reveals the girl, teenage Stella Miles Franklin, a long way from home, teaching four children on the property but intrigued by the young orphan girl, Imp, who plays outside the schoolroom after doing her chores, always with one eye on the blackboard.
Miss Franklin is lonely and often sits on a rock on the hill dreaming about what she wants to do. Imp sometimes catches her there and together the two provoke each other to do more than dream.
Imp is asked into the classroom but chooses instead to watch through the window where she learns her letters, while she provokes Miss Franklin into writing - using the skills she has brought with her along with her pens and ink and paper. And she does. So one of Australia's best known early works was written, My brilliant career, published in 1902 after Franklin's stint at a station far from home.
She went on to fame both here and overseas, needing to work in other fields to live. She moved to the USA and London, returning to Australia in 1927. She was an avowed feminist, writer and scholar who has left her mark on Australia's literary traditions, with two prizes awarded for writing each year: The Miles Franklin Literary Award for outstanding work and the Stella Prize specifically for women's writing.
Hathorn's imagined relationship between the two lonely but clever girls in rural New South wales brings a softness to Franklin's image, endearing her to younger readers.
The sweeping illustrations, redolent of the colours and hues of inner Australia, will be quickly absorbed by the readers as they imagine what it must have been like to travel so far from home at such a young age, your earnings needed by your family. Franklin's isolation is underscored by the illustrations, the broad sweeps of the Australian landscape, the hills rolling away to the horizon, knowing with absolute clarity that you are alone. This is a wonderful story about Miles Franklin, bringing her tale to a younger audience, inciting interest in the woman and her legacy, surrounded by the most breathtaking of scenery beautifully captured by illustrator, Phil Lesnie. Teacher's notes are available.
Fran Knight

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