The Writer-Historian


Historian and Harvard Professor Jill Lepore’s newest in a long line of readable histories, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, reveals the life and writings of Jane Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s younger sister. Close in age and temperament, the Franklin siblings had a lifelong friendship in letters. But, where Benjamin became a founding father and prolific writer, Jane mothered 12 children, only one who outlived her, and penned her Book of Ages, a chronicle of her children’s and their children’s untimely deaths. Lepore compares the very different lives of Benjamin and Jane, known in childhood as Benny and Jenny, to a kind of sociological experiment. The two were raised side by side with similar intelligence and personalities, but where Benjamin was afforded the education and assistance that a boy in America at that time could expect,  Jane never learned to hold a pen correctly. Lepore asserts that Jane was a more capable writer than many women and poor men of the time, but we can’t ignore the scant record of her life. Nor can we ignore the fact that Jane saved nearly every letter from Benjamin where he saved only a few from her, never mentioning his beloved sister in his autobiography.

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