Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

Miles Franklin Short BioTitle: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography

Author: Jill Roe

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: HarperCollins, 4th Estate

Published: 23rd April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Author, union organiser, WW1 volunteer, agitator, nationalist, Miles Franklin dedicated her life to many causes, none more passionately than Australian literature. Propelled to fame aged only twenty-one in the wake of her bestselling novel, My Brilliant Career, she never achieved the same literary success, but her life was rich and productive. She rose to the position of secretary of the National Women’s Trade Union League of America; served in a medical unit in the Balkans; was a first wave feminist in the US, Britain and Australia; published sixteen novels as well as numerous non-fiction books and articles; and maintained friendships and correspondences with a who’s who of poets, novelists, publishers, activists and artists.

If her extraordinary achievements in life were not enough, her endowment of the Miles Franklin Literary Award on her death ensured she would never be forgotten. In 2013, the Stella Prize for Australian Women’s Writing, named in honour of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was awarded for the first time, enhancing her reputation further.

This abridged edition of Jill Rowe’s award-winning biography introduces a new generation of readers to the indominable Miles Franklin – a pioneer of Australian Literature whose legacy founded our most prestigious literary prize.

Prizes won since the original was published in 2008:

Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – 2009

South Australian Prize for Non-Fiction – 2010

Australian Historical Association Magarey Medal for Biography – 2010

Jill Rowe passed away in 2014 and is honoured with the Jill Rowe Prize.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseBorn in 1879, twenty-two years before the states and territories federated as the Commonwealth of Australia, and twenty-three years before suffrage became a reality for many Australian women in 1902, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin would grow up to become one of Australia’s best-known and one of the most celebrated Australian women writers. She lived a remarkable life across Australia, Britain, Europe and the US, was always busy, and always involved in unions and activism. She was brave, and headstrong, and Jill Roe’s biography captured her willingness to follow her dreams and stand up for what she believed in. Her life was fascinating and diverse, from writing to involvement in war, and in unions and first wave feminism in three countries, working to bring women the vote.

Growing up near Tumut, with a large family, Miles, unlike her sisters, never married and never had children. Instead, she embarked on a career and in activities that were unexpected of women at that time, but that she found herself drawn to, and put her energies into these efforts. A prolific writer whose most famous book remains My Brilliant Career, she wrote another series under a nom de plume that she wouldn’t give anything away about and was able to keep up the charade for many years, up until her death.

Reading this biography, I learnt many things about Miles Franklin that I had not known beyond her impact on the literary world in Australia. She ensured that Australian literature would always be recognised through the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and championed an Australian literary culture, that, perhaps without her passion for it, we may not have around to enjoy so thoroughly today. It was a rich and fascinating life, and one that is far more than just one of Australia’s most celebrated novelists. What she achieved and worked towards in her lifetime was amazing and even in this abridged edition, the essence of her life and Jill Roe’s words still exist wholly and the reader can still enjoy it and gain an understanding of Miles Franklin as a whole person and not just a novelist.

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When The Lyre Bird Calls by Kim Kane

Title: When The Lyrebird Callslyrebird

Author: Kim Kane

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26/10/16

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A time-slip novel in which Madeleine finds herself transported back to 1900 Australia, where she befriends a family of girls and is witness to a family secret and a family tragedy.

When Madeleine is shipped off to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, she expects the usual: politics, early-morning yoga, extreme health food, and lots of hard work. Instead, Madeleine tumbles back in time to 1900, where the wealthy Williamson family takes her into their home, Lyrebird Muse.

At a time when young girls have no power and no voice, set against a backdrop of the struggles for emancipation, federation and Aboriginal rights, Madeleine must find a way to fit in with the Williamson family’s four sisters – beautiful, cold Bea; clever, awkward Gert; adventurous, rebellious Charlie; and darling baby Imo – as she searches desperately for a way home.

Meanwhile, the Williamson girls’ enchanting German cousin, Elfriede, arrives on the scene on a heavenly wave of smoke and cinnamon, and threatens to shatter everything…

~*~

When Madeleine is sent to Mum Crum’s for the holidays, she is unaware of what she will discover whilst she is there. While cleaning out a wardrobe, she discovers a hundred year old pair of elegant ball shoes that transport her back in time, to 1900, just months before the Federation of the Australian colonies, and during a time of racism, suffragettes and a difference in attitudes not only towards women, but to children as well. Upon her arrival in 1900, Madeleine is taken in by the Williamson girls: Bea, Gert, Charlie and little Imo, and learn to ensure she follows Nanny’s rules. Along with Gert, whom she tells she is from the future, she concocts a story for Gert’s parents and Nanny, and Aunt Hen, to ensure that she isn’t found out. Madeleine’s time with the Williamson’s is punctuated by a sojourn with Gert and Aunt Hen into Melbourne, and her modern day reactions to issues that were still in their infancy, or attitudes that were widely accepted, even if only because society expected such thinking, or people weren’t sure about speaking out.

When The Lyrebird Calls tells the story of a young nation, trying to find its identity amidst conflicts of tradition and the modern world, and a young girl who is seeing the history first hand through twenty-first century eyes. In reading about these issues in this setting through modern eyes and the reactions of other characters and the way they act or rather, don’t act in the face of diversity, tells volumes about how society has changed and what was perhaps expected or even assumed or taken for granted pre-Federation compared to today.

I found this book eye opening and it will help give younger readers an understanding of the early formation of our nation, of the suffragette movement and changing and expected attitudes towards women, children Indigenous people and even class divisions. It has an easy flow, making it easy to read and get through. Learning about the above issues in fiction can make the non-fiction easier to understand once a reader has a general idea of what to look for in research. Kim Kane has researched effectively, and given an interesting perspective on a time when lives were different, and restricted by class, gender and race to some extents, and where a middle ground might not always be found.

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