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 and 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

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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 and 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. The time she spends with the brilliant young printer teases her curious mind, and the money he provides keeps her family from starving. But the ambitious Franklin is committed to someone else, a proper but infatuated woman named Deborah Read who becomes his common-law wife. At least Anne has William, her cherished infant son, to remind her of his father and to soften some of life's bleakness.

But growing up a bastard amid the squalor of Eades Alley isn't the life Anne wants for her only son. Acutely aware of the challenges facing them, she makes a heartbreaking sacrifice. She will give up William forever, allowing Benjamin and Deborah Franklin to raise him as their own.

Though she cannot be with him, Anne secretly watches out for her beloved child, daring to be close to him without revealing the truth about herself or his birth, and standing guard as Deborah Franklin struggles to accept her husband's bastard son as her own.

As the years pass, the bustling colonies grow and prosper, offering opportunities for wealth and power for a talented man like William's father. Benjamin's growing fame and connections as a scientist, writer, philosopher, businessman, and political genius open doors for the astute William as well, and eventually King George III appoints Benjamin's bastard son to the new position of Royal Governor of New Jersey. Anne's fortunes also rise. A shrewd woman of many talents, she builds a comfortable life of her own—yet nothing fills her with more joy or pride than her son's success and happiness.

But all that her accomplished son has achieved is threatened when the colonies—led by influential men, including his own father—begin the fight for independence. A steadfast, loyal subject of the British Crown, William cannot accept his father's passionate defense of the patriots' cause, and the enduring bond they share fractures, a heart-wrenching break that will forever haunt them and those they love.

A poignant tale of passion, family, love, and war, Benjamin Franklin's Bastard skillfully brings into focus a cast of remarkable characters drawn from real life, and vividly re-creates one of the most remarkable and thrilling periods of history—the birth of the American nation.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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)
William Martin
“This is a superb novel. Don’t miss it.”
“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
“[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.”
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.”
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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HarperCollins Publishers
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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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Benjamin Franklin's Bastard: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so disappointed. I enjoyed her first three novels so much. This story for the most part is about B. Franklin's relationships with two women for which there is no factual historical basis. I am really lost at understanding her motivation for writing this book. There is very little interesting about the story of his bastard son that is interesting. One star is too many!
StephWard More than 1 year ago
'Benjamin Franklin's Bastard' is a captivating historical fiction novel that tells the story of William Franklin - the son of Benjamin Franklin and his mistress, Anne. This illegitimate son is raised by Benjamin's wife, Deborah. The novel takes place around the time of the American Revolution and tells the story of a man and his son torn apart by differing political views. William is a loyalist and his father and he can't seem to come to any sort of even ground between their political views. Since both are passionate in their causes and beliefs, this difference of opinion causes a rift in the family - especially the bond between Benjamin and his son. I don't normally enjoy historical fiction, but I was curious about the novel after reading the description. Gladly, the book surpassed any expectations I had for it. The writing was exceptional and entirely compelling. I found myself getting sucked into the story right from the beginning. The details and descriptions of the scenes, happenings, and characters were so vivid that I could easily imagine myself alongside them throughout the novel. The plot was interesting, especially considering it dealt with the American Revolution and how life was during that time in our country. I found the hidden story of William Franklin to be exciting and definitely added a layer of intrigue to the historical events that I never imagined before. All of the characters were very well written, especially those of William, Benjamin, and Deborah. They each had their own personalities complete with flaws and strengths just like the rest of us. It made them easy to identify with very early on in the book. The writing itself was incredible and had a quick pace and a natural flow that kept me fully engaged in the story. Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially those that deal with the American Revolution and Benjamin Franklin. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Tim_S More than 1 year ago
The one star rating?  Glad you loved her other three books----This is a DEBUT novel!!
JudiRohrig More than 1 year ago
Be Warned! Just as Daniel Day-Lewis breathed life into LINCOLN, Sally Cabot does the same with Will Franklin and the two women in Will and Ben's lives. There is no smoke being blown up your skirts or breeches to contend the story is "absorbing and compelling." It is indeed. If there's one period Cabot nails, it's this pre-Revolutionary/Revolutionary period. (Do seek out also, if you haven't already, her novels written as Sally Gunning.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hailey got blocked I think. She wants us to go to res 4"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Truth or dare," she shrugged.