Brenda Niall, arguably Australia’s foremost biographer, looks back on her own life and the circumstances, events and choices that shaped her career.
My Accidental Career spans nine decades, from her childhood in the Melbourne suburb of Kew—where powerful neighbours included prime minister Menzies, millionaire gambler John Wren and Archbishop Daniel Mannix—to her university days, her first job writing reviews for a magazine and her travels in Ireland after breaking off her engagement to a suitable young man. It’s a lively account of academic life at the newly established Monash University in the 1960s, a time when women were rare in university departments and even more rarely promoted, the snakes and ladders ups and downs of her time in the US, and of her charting new territory in Australian biography with acclaimed works on artists, writers and leaders.
Brenda Niall’s career isn’t one of struggle against the odds in a man’s world but one of quiet, confident work that couldn’t be ignored. Her Jane Austen-like wit and elegant prose enlivens this story of Australian women’s history seen through the lens of her remarkable life.
‘Brenda Niall is in a class of her own…Her books have all been works of insight and substance, their observations carefully considered.’
‘A detail-filled autobiography that journeys through various university departments, dinner parties and a life well lived. This is not a story of struggle, but rather a sensitive recall of a writing life from a women who was there, successfully and unapologetically, and lived to tell the tale.’
‘My Accidental Career is a chronicle of intellectual determination twinned with personal diffidence…with wit to make one rejoice.’
‘Niall is a sharp observer…If you love reading biographies, this book will be particularly enlightening.’
‘My Accidental Career repays close and attentive reading, for much is going on beneath the even surface of [Brenda Niall’s] words….This, then, is the story of a rich and satisfying life of creative achievement.’
‘Brenda has lived a remarkable life, blessed with admirable recollection and rational intellect, as told through this detail-filled autobiography. It’s not a story of struggle, but rather a sensitive recall of a writing life from a woman who was there, successfully and unapologetically, and lived to tell the tale.’
‘The quality of Niall’s writing…lies in the clarity of her thought, her exact choice of words, the alternation of anecdote and reflection and the self-effacement that creates a direct link between the reader and the work itself. …[My Accidental Career] is at one level an account of events. At another level, however, it is a work of art, an act of creation and of re-creation, ordering the flux of the personal and institutional relationships of the past.’