Review: Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard: A Novel by Sally Cabot

Benjamin Franklins Bastard “Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot is an absorbing and compelling work of literary historical fiction 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 both.
William Franklin, the son of Benjamin and his favorite mistress, Anne, is raised by Deborah, Benjamin’s wife. A steadfast loyalist, he and his father cannot reconcile their wildly disparate views, causing a rift in the bond both thought unbreakable.
Fascinating and heartbreaking, Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard is a gripping tale of family, love, and war, set against one of America’s most fascinating periods of history.” –

Raise your hand if you always thought Benjamin Franklin was a sweet, pudgy, curly-haired man who liked to fly kites? Well, it turns out, not so much… In Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard: A Novel by Sally Cabot (who also writes under the name Sally Gunning), we get a look at a different Benjamin Franklin altogether. Now, this is a very much fictionalized account of Ben’s life, but it does happen to be mired in fact – fact which, frankly, shocked me. Apparently, Benjamin Franklin got a little too friendly with a young woman before he was married and made a bay-bay out of wedlock. Hence, the lovely, lovely title: Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. Not the best title, in my opinion, but whatever works, I guess.

So. Shortly after Franklin fake-marries the woman who becomes his common-law wife (long story, just read the book) he discovers the existence of the baby he had unknowingly fathered. The child’s mother – a prostitute – is living in extreme poverty, and Franklin takes the child – William – home with him and asks his wife, Deborah, to raise him as her own. She agrees, but winds up becoming a resentful and cruel parent.

William Franklin’s actual mother has never been identified in reality; his mother in the book – Anne, the prostitute – is completely fictional. She is a prostitute for whom Benjamin Franklin arranges shelter and employment to better herself in exchange for allowing him to take William. Anne, however, decides she isn’t making enough coin at the job Ben found for her, so she goes back to hooking on the side. She was a very enterprising young woman for her time, apparently. Ben and Anne’s paths continue to cross over the years; at one point they even find themselves back in a sexual relationship. Anne finally finds the strength to cut all ties with Ben at the end of the book.

Now, the following actually happened: apparently Benjamin Franklin spent years at a time away from his wife, Deborah, while visiting England. They had grown apart after the death of their first-born child and I suppose he was trying to escape…? At one point he brought William with him. William, interestingly enough, wound up fathering a child out of wedlock himself – with a prostitute. Like father, like son, as the saying goes… William’s little friend also gives him the baby, who he arranges to be cared for by a British family. While in England, William develops strong political ties to the King, defying Benjamin’s political beliefs that independence is the only way to go. Upon returning to America, William is made governor of New Jersey, pitting him against Benjamin who soon disowns and disinherits him.

Excerpts of actual correspondence between father and son, as well as between Benjamin and his wife, Deborah, were included in this book. It was interesting to learn about these parts of Benjamin Franklin’s life that I had not heard about before. The work as a whole, however, had too much of a “romance novel” feel, which really turns me off. I enjoy historical fiction, and love stories are fine, but I’m not one for cheesy romance novels and this – while not too cheesy – came too close for comfort.

Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot was a very easy read, and as I said, it was interesting to learn these tidbits of history about Franklin and his family. It just didn’t quite live up to my expectations. You really don’t have to concentrate too hard to read this, so it would be a good book to read while you’re out at the lake or sitting in the back yard with the kids.

3 stars, sweethearts

Source: Lincoln City Libraries Digital Downloads

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