Jill Lepore and Jane Franklin

Jill Lepore gave a talk tonight at UW on her most recent book, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. It’s largely based on the correspondence between Jane and her famous brother, Benjamin.

Her work juxtaposes the fame of the brother with the obscurity of the sister and raises questions about gender and opportunity. Benjamin was given the opportunity to go to school, but his family’s poverty prevented him from getting a formal education. He was apprenticed to his brother who had a printshop and fled to Philadelphia, where he became famous. Jane married her next door neighbor at age fifteen and lived the typical life of a poor woman of the day. What set her apart was literacy and her famous brother.

Lepore talked mostly about their relationship and Jane’s life, relatively little about the topic implied by the subtitle of her book: Jane Franklin’s opinions. A few things came out at least. Jane was interested in politics and concerned about the plight of the poor. She was also opposed to war and violence. In her last letter to Benjamin before the beginning of the Constitutional Convention, she urged that the men gathered there would “beat swords into plowshares.”

Lepore is a fine historian, a beautiful writer, and an engaging speaker. It was a delightful evening.

a review from The New York Times.