Saturday, August 18, 2012

Man Enough to Write a Book

I'm reading Stella Maria Miles Franklin's My Career Goes Bung today.  She wrote it to follow up her successful first novel My Brilliant Career (1901), which she wrote as a teenager, but for various reasons the sequel sat in a trunk and wasn't published until 1946.  Franklin left her native Australia and built her writing career in the US and Britain, only returning home many years later.  In 1979 My Brilliant Career was made into a film directed by Gillian Armstrong that won awards and launched Judy Davis's international career.  According to the director, Davis hated the character, who was her polar opposite, and didn't enjoy making the film at all.  This was ironic, because on the strength of her portrayal she was cast in headstrong, tomboyish roles for some time after.

But back to My Career Goes Bung.  It's remarkable for a book written in 1902 (and would still be remarkable a century later, I think), for its feminism and for its take on religion.
It was a relief to be indignant with God, but a trial to be able to get at Him in any way.  In my perturbation I collided with Great-aunt Jane, who said that the Lord loves those whom she chastiseth.  His way of saving the world did not appear to me as efficient for a being who was all-powerful.  He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son to save it, and allowed Him to be nailed on a cross in ghastly agony -- without saving anything considerable as far as history shows.

"Heaven knows what He would have permitted to be done to a daughter," I remarked.

Aunt Jane stood this pretty well.  "Ah," she laughed, "You'll grow to sense.  A husband and children of your own will put you in your place" [18].
(Quoted from a 1981 reprint by St. Martin's Press, under the title The End of My Career.)

The narrator gets her Pa alone to talk more theology.
"The trouble with the Church of England God," Pa continued, "is that he is made in the image of some darned old cackling prelate, so mean and cowardly that the Devil, for consistency and ability, is a gentleman beside him."  Pa had a twinkle in his eye as he added, "But you know, it isn't gentlemanly to upset people of less mental powers than yourself; besides, it is dangerous.  Think as much as you like, my girl, but let sleeping dogs lie unless you can do some good by waking them up" [19].
The title of this post comes from Sybylla's Pa's offer, "If you are man enough to write a book, I'll get you some paper."

In an introduction to the 1946 edition, Franklin wrote that she hadn't changed the manuscript for publication, choosing to "keep faith with that girl who was I."  What she wrote feels way ahead of its time in tone and even language.  (Mark Twain wrote some similarly critical stuff about Christianity in the same period, but chose to leave it for posthumous publication.)  I read My Career Goes Bung a couple of decades ago, but had forgotten how much fun it is; so I'll quit writing and go back to reading.