Sybilla Melville lives with her family on an outback farm. She loves the bush life, but when the family is uprooted to live in poorer circumstances, she rebels against the restrictions this places upon her. She is sent to live at her grandmother’s property where her life is happier. A neighbouring gentleman proposes marriage, and she is undecided because what she really wants is a life without marriage.
“This was life – my life – my career, my brilliant career! I was fifteen – fifteen! A few fleeting hours and I would be old as those around me. I looked at them as they stood there, weary, and turning down the other side of the hill of life. When young, no doubt they had hoped for, and dreamed of, better things – had even known them. But here they were. This had been their life; this was their career. It was, and in all probability would be, mine too. My life – my career – my brilliant career!
“It came home to me as a great blow that it was only men who could take the world by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking, were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of fate tossed them hither and thither, battering and bruising without mercy.”
“Yes, I once was foolish enough to try and be polite, but I’ve given it up.”
First published in 1901, the language is quite dated and the melodramatic style can be irritating, but this book is a remarkable achievement for a young writer, only nineteen years old. Sybilla, the main character, is quite obnoxious at first, but her character developed as the book progressed.
Guardian: “Franklin shines an intense light not only into the deep recesses of a bright young mind but on the dark corners of inequality caused by “the rope of class distinction”. Indeed, the author is most searingly brilliant when depicting those who poignantly fail to achieve brilliance.”
Reading Australia: “Sybylla is irritating, in the way that self-absorbed, self-pitying people are, when they are not ourselves or our best friends; but most readers still want her to be rescued from her situation, and one of the interesting things about the novel is the way that it ends.”
A 1979 film version, produced by Margaret Fink and directed by Gillian Armstrong, features Judy Davis and Sam Neill in starring roles as Sybylla and Harry.