The Profligate Son: Or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain

The Profligate Son: Or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain

by Nicola Phillips
     
 

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Foppish, impulsive, and philandering: William Jackson was every Georgian parent’s worst nightmare. Gentlemen were expected to be honorable and virtuous, but William was the opposite, much to the dismay of his father, a well-to-do representative of the East India Company in Madras. In The Profligate Son, historian Nicola Phillips meticulously reconstructsSee more details below

Overview

Foppish, impulsive, and philandering: William Jackson was every Georgian parent’s worst nightmare. Gentlemen were expected to be honorable and virtuous, but William was the opposite, much to the dismay of his father, a well-to-do representative of the East India Company in Madras. In The Profligate Son, historian Nicola Phillips meticulously reconstructs William’s life from a recently discovered family archive, describing how his youthful misbehavior reduced his family to ruin. At first, William seemed destined for a life of great fortune, but before long, he was indulging regularly in pornography and brothels and using his father’s abundant credit to swindle tradesmen. Eventually, William found himself in debtor’s prison and then on a long, typhus-ridden voyage to an Australian penal colony. He spent the rest of his days there, dying a pauper at the age of thirty-seven.

A masterpiece of literary nonfiction as dramatic as any Dickens novel, The Profligate Son transports readers from the steamy streets of India, to London’s elegant squares and seedy brothels, to the sunbaked shores of Australia, tracing the arc of a life long buried in history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
William Jackson “had once been the apple of his fond father’s eye,” yet at just 20 years old, he found himself in jail awaiting trial—and a possible death sentence—for forgery. Drawing on hundreds of letters, prison and court records, and William Jackson Sr.’s unpublished, self-serving account of his son’s downfall (Filial Ingratitude; Or, The Profligate Son), Phillips (Women in Business) draws a portrait of a tortured father-son relationship, likening it to the inflexible King George III’s critical rapport with his debt-saddled, voluptuary eldest son—which strained relationship many blame for the latter’s indiscretions. William Jr., for his part, frequented brothels, racked up enormous debts to acquire “all the essential accoutrements” of a fashionable gentleman, and at 18 was impelled to sell his military commission to get out of the red. In and out of debtors’ prisons and court at the Old Bailey, William seemed hell-bent on becoming the profligate son, a reprehensible “stock character” in the arts of the age. He succeeded faster than he could’ve imagined. This is an engrossing tale of a Regency rake’s fast times and tragic unraveling that vivifies the history of Georgian England and colonial Sydney, Australia. 14 b&w images and 2 maps. Agent: Peter Robinson, Rogers, Coleridge & White, U.K. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

Washington Times
“This gem of a book provides a cautionary tale... a fascinating story about a tempestuous relationship between father and son.... There the tale would have ended, lost to history, or as in Thomas Hardy’s words, into ‘oblivion’s swallowing sea,’ except for the marvelous discovery and exquisite narrative skill of Nicola Phillips, who has produced a satisfying historical portrait that seems straight out of A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth or the pages of Jane Austen.”

The Washington Post
"[A] terrific book...[which] can can and should be read as a cautionary tale, albeit one told with style, flair and solid history.”

Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Phillips, who writes smooth and beguiling prose, declines to twist her story into a cautionary tale for our times, but the caution is there to be given its due consideration.”

The Wall Street Journal
“A tale of juvenile folly turning into serious crime is afforded by Nicola Phillips's splendid The Profligate Son, which chronicles the fraught relationship between the wealthy East India merchant William Collins Jackson and his son William in the early 19th century. Drawing on Jackson senior's manuscript ‘Filial Ingratitude’ (1807-14), Ms. Phillips charts the boy's chosen path to its sordid and inevitable end and in the process makes an age come wonderfully alive.”

Literary Review, UK
"The engine of this book is its author's empathy, but Phillips also has an eye for detail.... The accounts of the court proceedings and the workings of the legal system in which the boy becomes entangled are as good as anything outside the pages of Bleak House...impossible to forget."

Shelf Awareness For Readers
“The Profligate Son is a fascinating (and all too familiar) story — even today, in our modern era of massive debts.”

London Historians
“A true Regency tale, with dollops of absorbing social, legal and criminal history thrown in, beautifully told. Warmly recommended.”

The Independent, UK
“An excellently researched book”

Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing tale of a Regency rake’s fast times and tragic unraveling that vivifies the history of Georgian England and colonial Sydney, Australia.”

Library Journal
“An entertaining read, aptly demonstrating how understanding the past can help us better understand our own world as well.”

Booklist
"An absorbing case study.... Phillips eloquently fills out the bare bones of the known facts of the story.”

Kirkus Reviews
"Phillips... portrays an entire social history through the sad unraveling of one newly rich family ruined by the rakish pursuits (blending into criminality) of the sole son and heir.... An immensely readable work of literary depths."

Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Verneys and The Rainborowes
The Profligate Son held me spellbound from start to finish. Nicola Phillips brings the seamy side of Regency England to life with remarkable clarity, and her anti-hero William Jackson’s headlong descent into a hell of his own making is so vivid and so foolhardy that more than once I wanted to reach into the book and shake some sense into him. A compelling read.”

Margaret R. Hunt, Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies, Amherst College
“Nicola Phillips has given us a compulsively readable story of a young man of good family who went dramatically astray in the fleshpots and gambling houses of Regency England. The book brings to life the glitter, the tawdriness, the promise and the heartbreak of the times in a way that few more conventional histories have done. At the same time it is a perceptive study of two flawed, headstrong men who had the signal misfortune to be father and son.”

Kate Mosse, author of the Languedoc Trilogy
"A gripping story of privilege and power, ungrateful sons and disappointed fathers in Regency England. Phillips brings the period to life with great authority and also sets the history in a thoughtful, modern context. A very enjoyable read."

Library Journal
Born into comfort and wealth in Georgian London, William Collins Burke Jackson (1792–1828) died a penniless and homeless alcoholic, abandoned by family, friends, and country. The privileged only son of a wealthy East India merchant, Jackson should by rights have had it all, from economic and social status to educational, marital, and career success. Despite his many advantages, or perhaps because of them, he was by the age of 20 a convicted criminal, charged with forgery and swindling, and sent bound in chains from a Dickensian debtors' prison to the penal colony of Australia. In this account based on a three-volume unpublished manuscript (held at the UK National Archives) written by Jackson's bitterly disappointed father, Phillips (history, Kingston Univ., London; Women in Business 1700–1850) engagingly recounts this tragic tale of intergenerational conflict set against the backdrop of the 19th-century British legal system. Whether Jackson's dissolute behavior was a result of his upbringing by a cold, critical father or a class system that encouraged excess, he was by all accounts an irredeemable character. Phillips ties Jackson's story to today's habits of credit card consumerism and debt. VERDICT An entertaining read, aptly demonstrating how understanding the past can help us better understand our own world as well.—Linda Frederiksen, Washington State Univ. Lib., Vancouver
Kirkus Reviews
British academic Phillips (History/Kingston Univ.; Women in Business, 1700-1850, 2006) portrays an entire social history through the sad unraveling of one newly rich family ruined by the rakish pursuits (blending into criminality) of the sole son and heir. In the late 1700s, William Jackson was a middling-born Englishman of the merchant class who ventured from Exeter to India to make his fortune. Jackson did indeed work his way up in the East India Company, and he married well and produced a son, also named William. But in 1798, a violent run-in with an ascendant poligar (chieftain) led to Jackson's disgrace and dismissal. He returned to England a wealthy man, however, and moved his family to the fashionable town of Bath. Son William was the apple of his father's eye, imbued with his sense of entitlement and hopes for social advancement but, unfortunately, Phillips writes, lacking in Jackson's self-discipline and probity. The boy bounced around various elite schools, proving himself "the most turbulent and refractory of pupils." By age 16, William had fallen in with a group of aristocratic scoundrels in London who frequented prostitutes, ran up debts and drank prodigiously. A stint in the military ended badly, leaving the "thorny question of William's status and condition in life...once more at the heart of the dispute between father and son." Their feud deepened with William's trail of rash debts, which led to incarceration in various debtors' prisons and ultimately the threat of hanging. Jackson finally washed his hands of his son, who was eventually transported to Australia. The author draws heavily from Jackson's own unpublished memoir, as well as extensive research in Britain's Georgian era. An immensely readable work of literary depths.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465037742
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
08/27/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
16 - 18 Years

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