05 September 2013

Book of Ages; Jill Lepore

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane FranklinBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sigh. Sadly, the author got in the way of this book about an interesting woman, Ben Franklin's younger sister.

Jane Franklin was the youngest of 17 (yes, seventeen!) children, and the one closest to her brother Ben. I'm sure at some time I knew that Ben was from Boston, but he's so identified with Philadelphia that I'd forgotten. She could read but her writing was - to put it mildly - poor. Fancy lettering at times, but fanciful spelling, grammar and what they used to call pointing and we now call punctuation. That's one of the problems with this book: the author felt compelled to translate the letters Jane wrote to her brother and others, usually with an awkward lead-in. There were other ways to have handled this that would have been smoother.

The author is upfront with us, admitting that we know very little about Jane's life (she's omitted from Ben's autobiography) except from what we read in her letters and the letters she received. And here comes the other device I found annoying: the author illustrates the poverty of Jane Franklin's life by comparing it to others (including Jane Austen). Of course there's a lot about Ben and his life, and because Jane was very family oriented, we get a lot about his children. We also have quite a lot about her family, which stretched to four generations. Sadly, we got reminded frequently about people and problems (and the House That Douse Lived In, and yes, you're meant to think about the House That Jack Built). Perhaps I'm different from most readers, but I can keep events and people straight over a few chapters.

Still, the opportunity to read about someone virtually forgotten by history and yet who played such an important role in the life of one of our Founding Fathers was wonderful. And despite the writing ticks and odd digressions, we get a great view of what life was like back in 1700s America.

ARC provided by publisher.

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