“Sorrows rolled upon Jane Franklin like waves of the sea. She left in their wake these gifts, her remains: needles and pens, letters and books, politics and opinions, this history, this archive, a quiet story of a quiet life of quiet sorry and quieter beauty.” (267)
In Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, historian Jill Lepore uses these items, mentioned above, to explore the life of Benjamin Franklin’s little-known younger sister, Jane. Although Jane’s effects are few, Lepore crafts an evocative and imaginative narrative of Jane’s life. Born the youngest of seventeen children in 1712, Jane learned to read and write from her brother Benjamin and would correspond with him for the rest of his life. She married a poor saddler at age fifteen and would have twelve children. She recorded these children’s birth and death dates in her small and homemade Book of Ages as a way of recording her lineage. Lepore explains that Jane lived a relatively ordinary life as a wife and mother and when she died in 1794. Jane left behind only a few effects.
Lepore does more than simply tell Jane’s story, rather she uses Jane’s life as lens with which to explore the lifecycles of colonial woman (education, marriage, childbirth and rearing, household occupations, death etc.), the character of eighteenth-century printing, and the private, family life of Benjamin Franklin. Although she has relatively few sources to work from, Lepore uses them admirably to create a story that is as academically rigorous as it is engaging and lyric.
If you are interested knowing more about how women lived in the eighteenth-century or seeing a different side of Benjamin Franklin, this book is for you!
Borrow a copy of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin from Tredyffrin Public Library or Paoli Library today!
About the reviewer: Abby Shelton has worked as a Reference staff member at Tredyffin Public Library for four months. When she’s not answering questions about printing and copying, she’s reading (of course!), enjoying the outdoors, and cooking new things.