Contesting Enslavement : Marriage, Manhood and My Brilliant Career

In 1903 A.G. Stephens, literary editor and mentor, wrote to Miles Franklin about the ' bruise ' scene in My Brilliant Career. 'Is this your experience', he inquired. 'Does it represent your own feelings? Why should the marks and pain of bruises give you pleasure? Do you mean that you or another woman likes to be hurt and bruised by the man she loves? Scientifically, this is a very interesting question. I wish you would write fully to me about it' (Stephens to Franklin 29 July 1903, Franklin Papers 333). Franklin, if she replied at all, must have equivocated or ignored the question. Seven months later, Stephens was again trying to prise a ' secret' out of her. ' Bless your innocent heart .. . Thought you had something really intimate and tender to confide ... cancel innocent heart above if incorrect' (Stephens to Franklin 8 March 1904 Franklin Papers 336). At the same time Stephens was trying to protect the 'innocent' Franklin from the overtures of experienced men like Norman Lindsay. Stephens' relationship with Franklin was saturated in complex and ambivalent erotic and patriarchal investments. In one sense his inquiries were part of a longer masculinist tradition, a puzzled fascination with women as unknowable territory, Freud's 'dark continent', to be explored, mapped, tamed, possessed, and exploited. There are also age-old literary questions implicit in these inquiries - what is the relationship between the text and the writer's life? Whatever the personal experiences underpinning MBC, what matters is how they are transformed into literature. Stephens, like many subsequent critics, have seen My Brilliant Career as an intriguing and insightful window onto the world of women in colonial Australia. But this sense of looking into the hearts of women works through an evocation of men and relationships between men and women. Franklin's depictions of men are the undertows, pulling the text in important directions.

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Published 1 October 2002 in Volume 20 No. 4. Subjects: Gender roles, Male / female relationships, Marriage, Masculinity, Miles Franklin.

Cite as: Garton, Stephen. ‘Contesting Enslavement : Marriage, Manhood and My Brilliant Career.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 20, no. 4, 2002, doi: 10.20314/als.1007705908.