The story of the life of Jane Franklin is told through her correspondence with her brother Benjamin Franklin, whose accomplishment and wealth are in sharp contrast to her life of struggle, disappointment and poverty. There were many times when I wondered why Ben Franklin, who is shown to be self-absorbed and egotistical on more than one occasion, didn’t swoop in and save Jane and her children from their difficult lives, providing more than the books that Jane requested and cherished. Later in his life he did provide for his youngest sister, making sure that she was comfortable and cared for in her old age, once most of her children had died in poverty. Even then, although he wrote more letters to her than anyone else in his lifetime, he never mentioned her in his own autobiography… what’s up with that Ben??
Well-read and opinionated, with her own political insights, one wonders what Jane’s life would have become had she been born in a different time. I don’t typically consider myself a “feminist” but the differences in the situations and opportunities for these two siblings are evident and unfortunate. The lack of opportunity for her to use her intelligence and pursue her passions, disturbingly little assistance available for dealing with her children’s medical and mental problems, and a weak debt-ridden husband left Jane with little hope for contentment, let alone achievement, in her life.
Well-written, with amazingly detailed research, it is an engrossing story of an unknown woman who just happened to have a famous brother.
“In the eighteenth century, history and fiction split. Benjamin Franklin’s life entered the annals of history; lives like his sister’s became the subject of fiction. Histories of great men, novels of little women.”
Title: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Author: Jill Lepore
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biographical, History
Publication: Knopf, October 2013