Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore is an ambitious effort to bring the reader information regarding the life of Jane Franklin, sister of Benjamin Franklin.
She succeeds in some areas, and in other areas I felt that she was lacking. Perhaps, lacking is not the way to articulate my thoughts and feelings. I felt that Jane Mecom’s story was overshadowed by her brother’s life and his deeds.
Jane Mecom was a very devoted wife and devoted sister. She was the mother of twelve children, twelve being the total of children she had, but she lost several of them. She also was a grandmother and great-grandmother. She never strayed from home while bringing up her children. It was not until her husband died that she finally left the house, and from that moment on, she began traveling here and there, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for other purposes.
Once her youngest child left the house, she enjoyed an incredible amount of freedom, freedom she had never known. And, she rather enjoyed it, even sharing in her writings that it was nice to see her grandchildren, but also nice that they left, or that she could leave their homes, and be left alone, again. Her solitude was precious to her.
Through Jane’s sparse letters, documents, and the many letters of Benjamin Franklin, we are privy to a loving brother/sister relationship. We are also given insightful information on the American Revolution and other events in the history of the time period. Book of Ages is not a biography or a memoir, but more of a historical documentation of the times, bringing forth social aspects, political aspects, and aspects of daily living within the realm and environment of Jane’s life, and the lives of those around her.
Some of the chronology is not exacting, and I felt that Lepore loosely dealt with issues and with words that she implied were written or uttered by Jane Mecom.
I would have been more pleased if there had been more reflection and information regarding Jane, herself, rather that the overly abundant amount of information regarding Benjamin Franklin. I understand that Benjamin Franklin was an important force in America and overseas. Yet, the title of the book does not exactly produce the information regarding Jane within the pages, as this reader presumed it would. Book of Ages, I came to find out, was the title of a document that Jane Mecom wrote. It was a chronology of the births and deaths of her family members.
I would have liked to learn more about this woman who struggled, who lived in poverty, who birthed so many children, who lost so many of them, who did not leave the town she lived in until the last child left the house, and who seemingly led a life of toil and isolation. There must have been more in her life Lepore could have written about, other than the reader being exposed to more information regarding Benjamin Franklin and the events he was involved in.
I was fascinated by Jane Mecom’s responses to her brother’s letters. I was surprised by her bad choice of a husband. She married young and married a man who was not a good provider. At one point he ended up in debtor’s prison. She was in a constant state of caring for the children and household, trying to manage the little finances she had, and her own needs came last. This is typical of the times, when women were not considered to be of value. The stark difference between her and her brother is quite sharply written. He lived prosperously, she lived in poverty. He was well-known and respected, she was more or less isolated, he had freedom, she had the house to manage. Possibly, this was the point Lepore was trying to make. I don’t know.
I liked The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, but yet felt a bit of disappointment in it. The overshadowing of events and overshadowing of Jane Franklin’s brother, and his life taking precedent, in my opinion, left me wanting more regarding Jane Mecom.
I would rate The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin a 3.5, with 5 being the highest.