Sybylla Melvyn is a young girl growing up in the Australian bush. Her father squanders his hard-earned income on speculative investments and alcohol. Sybylla dreams of grandeur and independence, but is relegated to traditional female roles on her family farm. She jumps at the opportunity of an extended stay at her grandmother’s country house, Caddagat. There she meets the handsome and charismatic Harry Beecham, and romance ensues. But Sybylla is reluctant to commit to the relationship, valuing her independence and dreams above all else. Tongue firmly in cheek, she writes:
Those of you who have hearts, and therefore a wish for happiness, homes, and husbands by and by, never develop a reputation of being clever. It will put you out of the matrimonial running as effectually as though it had been circulated that you had leprosy. So, if you feel that you are afflicted with more than ordinary intelligence, and especially if you are plain with it, hide your brains, cramp your mind, study to appear unintellectual — it is your only chance. (p. 34)
With such a promising premise and witty prose, I wish I could say I liked this book. Unfortunately, it was predictable and not all that interesting. To be fair, this was Miles Franklin’s first novel, written when she was only sixteen. Carmen Callil’s introduction to this Virago Modern Classic was far more intriguing, as it provided a mini-biography of this famous Australian novelist, best known to me as the namesake of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, sustaining her commitment to Australian literature.