Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book of Ages by Jill Lepore

Jane Franklin was the younger sister of Benjamin Franklin. He was the youngest son and she the youngest daughter of a large colonial family in Boston. He was six years older than she and, due to gender, miles ahead of her in opportunity. While he was provided with some education and allowed to leave the family candle-making business for an apprenticeship in printing, she, as was standard for the times, was kept at home with no opportunity for education or choice in employment.  He went on to become one of the wealthiest and most accomplished men of all time: writer, scientist, philosopher, diplomat and Founding Father of our country. She became the wife of a poor man and mother of twelve children, only one of whom survived her. He wrote many books and pamphlets, including his Autobiography and Poor Richard's Almanac which are still read today. Her only book, Book of Ages, was a handmade book for personal use, in which she recorded the births and deaths of her children and husband. But she was a writer, exchanging letters with her brother and other friends throughout her life. Her letters have survived due to her connection to her famous brother.  Now author Jill Lepore has used them to write a life of Jane Franklin.  Few people have ever been as gifted as Benjamin Franklin, but in Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, Lepore paints a picture of a woman whose innate intelligence outshines her lack of education.  Life in the colonies before and during the Revolutionary War required a courage and perseverance hard for modern Americans to comprehend. Jane Franklin’s letters assist historians in their examination of the life of ordinary people in Colonial America. Drudgery, poverty, illness and death were the order of the day for the American colonists, particularly the women. The rights of women lagged behind the Rights of Man and, in fact, were years in coming. But women contributed to the struggle for independence as well as men, as this book shows.