Benjamin Franklin's Bastard: A Novel

Benjamin Franklin's Bastard: A Novel

4.2 10
by Sally Cabot
     
 

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An absorbing and compelling work of literary historical fiction, set in colonial Philadelphia, that brings to life a little-known chapter of the American Revolution—the story of Benjamin Franklin, his bastard son, and the women who loved them

Sixteen-year-old Anne is an uneducated serving girl at the Penny Pot tavern when she first meets the commanding

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Overview

An absorbing and compelling work of literary historical fiction, set in colonial Philadelphia, that brings to life a little-known chapter of the American Revolution—the story of Benjamin Franklin, his bastard son, and the women who loved them

Sixteen-year-old Anne is an uneducated serving girl at the Penny Pot tavern when she first meets the commanding Benjamin Franklin, and soon bears him a son she names William. But growing up a bastard amid the squalor of the Philadelphia slums isn't the life Anne wants for her boy. She makes a heartbreaking decision to give up William forever, allowing Benjamin and his common-law wife, Deborah, to raise him as their own.

Anne secretly watches out for her beloved child—as Deborah struggles to accept him—and takes great pride as William rises to become Royal Governor of New Jersey. But when the colonies begin to fight for independence from the British Crown, William is torn between allegiance to his beloved monarchy and his own father.

A poignant tale of passion, family, love, and war, Benjamin Franklin's Bastard skillfully draws together a remarkable cast of real characters to vividly re-create one of the most thrilling periods of history—the birth of the American nation.

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Editorial Reviews

William Martin
“This is a superb novel. Don’t miss it.”
Booklist
“Cabot laces her assured novel with Shakespearan overtones as the characters continually misconstrue one another’s motives. From Franklin’s intense intellectual curiosity to Anne’s stubborn insistence on leading an independent life, this memorable cast makes for spellbinding reading.”
RT Book Reviews
“[A] poignant take of love, survival, loyalty, and the meaning of family.” 4.5 stars–Fantastic
Shelf Awareness
“Unforgettable.”
Providence Journal
“[F]or all Franklin’s genius, fortune, and increasing stature, he is not spared the trials of women, concerns for children, or the struggles between a father and son with political differences…. [Cabot is] a gifted writer.”
Publishers Weekly
An enticing read for history buffs, Cabot's novel fluidly captures the changing political climate of 18th-century Philadelphia and its star, "the brilliant, entertaining, and innovative" Benjamin Franklin. Relying on his considerable charm, the up-and-coming Franklin woos the two "malleable women" of his life: Deborah Read (who eventually becomes his lawful wife) and Anne, a tavern girl-turned-prostitute who bears Franklin's illegitimate son, William. Cabot's novel becomes genuinely heart-wrenching when Franklin, disavowing a "youthful affinity for low women," convinces Anne to give up William and asks Deborah to raise him as their own. Her decision to accept William marks the beginning of a decades-long struggle between her husband, his illegitimate son, and William's mysterious birth mother. Two-parts soap opera, one-part history lesson, Cabot's novel swiftly chronicles Franklin's political rise and William's privileged but troubled upbringing. Yet it's Anne who emerges as the most compelling and complex character. Cabot, an avid participant in her Massachusetts town's local historical society, culls letters, historical records, and rumors of the time to bring to life the plucky and devoted mother of Franklin's bastard, whose real identity remains unknown. The worthwhile theme of Anne's separate journey for happiness and legitimacy receives too little space in this otherwise satisfying period piece. Agent: Kris Dahl, ICM. (May)
Providence Journal on BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S BASTARD
“[F]or all Franklin’s genius, fortune, and increasing stature, he is not spared the trials of women, concerns for children, or the struggles between a father and son with political differences…. Woven together by a gifted writer, this well-crafted book has more to offer than one might expect.”
Library Journal
This debut novel would have been more aptly titled "Benjamin Franklin's Consorts," as this is the Founding Father's life as it intersected with Deborah, his real common-law wife, and the author-concocted Anne, mother of his only surviving son, William. The boy is raised never knowing his birth mother and disliked by his adoptive parent. But he grows up in the image and ways of his father until the time of the American Revolution, when the two have an irreparable break. We experience this through Deborah and Anne mainly: Deborah always insecure with the gallivanting and never-committing Franklin, and Anne, the inquisitive and imaginative whore who was perhaps the real soul mate. Cabot leads us to question the psychological impact on William of his lifelong attempt to legitimize his status in the eyes of his parents and the community. Was he a "bastard" by birth, because of his upbringing, or because he was the last royal governor of New Jersey? VERDICT A pleasant read, with insights into the status of women in Colonial times, and of interest to lovers of the era, especially of that scamp Benjamin. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/12.]—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Cabot debuts by bringing to life Ben Franklin's wife, lover and illegitimate son. History doesn't identify William Franklin's mother, but Cabot imagines a strong, courageous and intelligent woman named Anne, a refugee from ragtag Eades Alley in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia. Anne works at Penny Pot Tavern, there meeting the charming, young Ben Franklin, up-and-coming citizen and publisher of the Philadelphia Gazette. Young Ben beds Deborah Read, a tradesman's daughter, but is denied permission to marry. He travels to England. "I am unlikely to return to Philadelphia anytime soon," Ben writes, and so Deborah marries a scoundrel and leaves him. Ben returns, prospers and charms Penny Pot's Anne. That he offers her money for her desperate family seems irrelevant. Anne's soon pregnant, but Ben reconnects with Deborah, taking her as a common-law wife. Realizing her sexuality offers money, and power, Anne entertains other men. Ben learns of William's birth and persuades Anne to give him up, although unbeknownst to Deborah, Anne later maneuvers Ben to become William's nanny for a short period, an affair ending badly. Lifelong tension burns between Deborah and William, exacerbated when Francis, Ben and Deborah's son, dies of smallpox. Cabot defines colonial Philadelphia believably, captivating with her perception of Franklin as charming, intellectual and driven. This early narrative enthralls, but it makes an abrupt switch in focus as William reaches adulthood. Ben travels to England as colonial emissary. Deborah refuses to go along, but William agrees. Ben, "monogamous but not celibate," invites Anne, but she balks. The Franklins return, with William appointed New Jersey's royal governor. The narrative then follows the father–son conflict over William's loyalty to the king and Ben's support of revolution, with Anne's story fading into the background. Cabot shines in her descriptions of colonial life, in her fictionalized rendition of Ben Franklin's charismatic personality and wide-ranging intellect, but especially in interpreting Franklin the man through Anne, a fully-realized, memorable character. It is Anne who brings imagined reality's magic to the narrative. Intriguing historical fiction; a laudable interpretation of colonial life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062241931
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/24/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
240,139
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Meet the Author

Sally Cabot lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in the local historical society and creates tours that showcase the three-hundred-year history of her village. Writing as Sally Gunning she has authored three critically acclaimed historical novels set in New England during the tempestuous years that led up to the American Revolution: The Widow's War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke.

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