Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot

I literally couldn’t put this book down last week and finished it quickly. One of my favorite items that I read in American Literature in college was Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. It was a humorous tale that had me laughing out loud constantly. It also opened my eyes up to the fact that the American founding fathers were not all virtuous god-like beings, but that they were firmly grounded in reality with sins of their own. One of Franklin’s sins is that he had an illegitimate son. My American Literature book said the mother was a prostitute, but it is unknown who the mother was of Franklin’s son.

Cabot spends this novel focused on the two women in Franklin’s life, his wife Deborah, and the mother of his illegitimate son, Anne. Deborah Reed first meets Franklin when he boards with her family when he first arrives in Philadelphia. Young Deborah and Benjamin soon fall in love, and want to marry before Benjamin heads to London on business. Deborah is only 16 and Benjamin 18 and her parents want them to wait until he has a way to support her. Benjamin takes off for London, writes Deborah once, and never responds to her two letters. Time passes and he does not come back in a few months as promised. Meanwhile Deborah’s father has died and the family is in dire straits. Deborah’s mother basically forces her to marry a young John Rogers, and things do not turn out well. Benjamin finally returns from London and finds Deborah a married woman without a husband, but also not widowed. Their love story resumes.

Meanwhile (hopefully) before Benjamin and Deborah resume their love story, Benjamin meets young tavern lass named Anne. Anne is fascinated with his scientific experiments and it is rather amusing that Benjamin uses the same pick-up lines on Anne that he has previously used on Deborah. Anne lives in poverty from a large family with a sick father who is unable to work. When Benjamin offers her cash for her “favors,” Anne accepts as a new way to make money. Benjamin is surprised to learn that Anne is a virgin, but that does not stop him from visiting her. One day Benjamin stops by to say he can’t see her anymore (presumably as he is getting married), and Anne is left alone. She soon discovers she is pregnant with Franklin’s child. She falls into a life of prostitution to support her and is having a hard time of it. Eventually she has to give up her son William to Franklin as she knows he will have a much better life with his father.

The tale continues with the lives of Benjamin, Deborah, and Anne interwoven through the years. William is also shown from a point of few. I feel sad for him as he is always considered Benjamin’s “bastard” child although he is his only surviving son. William also yearns for the love of his mother, “Deborah,” but they always remain at odds.

This historical fiction novel focuses mostly on the personality and romance without too much of the deep history of the time or Franklin himself. His inventions and politics are shown more in the light of how they affect his family. I’ll admit that I was annoyed at how much of a cad Benjamin was more than once. But then I thought back to his autobiography and also a couple of biographies I’ve read of him and he was a cad. This book just made him seem even more so with a few scenes I don’t want to spoil. It seemed that although he was fond of his family, his number one concern was himself. But on the other hand, it took guts to raise your illegitimate child and also to marry Deborah in the first place. I admired that about him.

Truthfully, I didn’t really like either Anne or Deborah. Poor Deborah was a no nonsense woman who had no interest in Franklin’s work. They seem very mismatched except for the fact that Deborah is an excellent housekeeper and cook . . . and I’ve seen the paintings of Franklin. I think he liked good cooking. Although they are mismatched, Deborah loves Franklin through all of his misdeeds and the ending really makes me angry at Franklin. Sadly I know that it is true.

I thought Anne’s portrayal was very interesting. Most historical fiction does not focus on the poorest of the poor or prostitutes so I thought it was intriguing. Anne though really seemed to care most about money (which you would if you were always so hungry) and not so much about love. She did love William, but she did not know how to care for him. She was also a very smart woman and would have made a better match for Franklin, except for her coming from poverty and falling into a career of prostitution.

Overall, I vastly enjoyed this book. I would recommend it for lovers of American Historical Fiction or anyone looking for a light historical fiction read. There are a lot of steamy scenes in this book so beware.

Book Source: Review copy from William Morrow – An Imprint of HarperCollins Publisher. Thank-you!


  1. Yeah...he's a cad. But at least it was well-written because you couldn't put it down.

  2. I recently heard about this book and thought it was interesting because it was about Ben Franklin. I was supposed to go to an author event for this one at the bookstore last weekend but really just ran out of time - now I'm really disappointed I missed it.

  3. I would be disappointed to miss it as well. Author events are a lot of fun and this is an intriguing novel!

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