First published 2004 by Allen &Unwin in association with State Library of NSW
You’ll have to overlook of course that they were edited by a man, Paul Brunton, and focus on the person who wrote them. The diaries cover from 1932, when she had just arrived back in Australia aged 50+ after many years overseas, up until the year of her death, 1954.
I have not yet read any of her other books, but after reading the diaries, I can’t wait to start. I loved them. The first benefit was the stuff relating to the writing life. It is always heartening to have a closer look at the life of writing giants and discover all the same frustrations, years spent trying to get published, fears of failure, lack of money; and that they write on regardless. I have been writing for 20+ years and have gotten nowhere; part of that time went on bringing up babies (four) under the impression that a woman could have it all. Franklin had no such delusions, but by the end of her life, wondered if her choice not to have a marriage and family had all been worth it. We would say it did.
I love the way she so elegantly disses other authors. This is probably why the diaries went unpublished for so long – they had to wait until the other authors were dead. She lays into Christina Stead, saying as many bad things as good, and I enjoyed that, because some years ago someone decided to rediscover Stead’s books, but having opened one at the library, a quick look was all I needed to put it down forever. The adverbs in the dialogue put me off.
The word mediocrity was mentioned endlessly comes up – it was one of her pet hates. She mentions it especially in regard to the work of her more financially successful contemporaries, such as Ion Idriess and Mary Gilmore, these other authors whose names I did not know the way I know the name Stella Miles Franklin. It left me wondering what she would have made of the winners of the Miles Franklin awards. Were there any that she would have thought mediocre? [Mary Gilmore, whom Franklin loved to hate, is on our $10 note; on the other side is Banjo Patterson, who once tried to get in Franklin’s knickers.]
I also liked that she was not afraid to use words such as ‘sickening’ and ‘perversion’ to describe some books/stories, these days people are too afraid to be seen as fuddy-duddies to dare to say what they truly thing of someone else’s “art”.
I would have liked to have seen more of her thoughts on spiritual matters, such as God etc, because while she describes Xavier Herbert as ‘lacking spiritual integrity’, not much of her own beliefs are presented in this book.
I will finish off with quote about the 1935 film Heritage; I’m sure she would have the same things about the 2008 film Australia: “Failure, or at best mediocrity, will continue to attend those who strive to jazz Australia up to USA rhythm or seek to present her in the image of any outside conception imposed by financial pressure or umbilical relationships or the whole rag-bag of expediency.” Amen.