Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Benjamin Franklin's Bastard"

Sally Cabot lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in the local historical society and creates tours that showcase the three-hundred-year history of her village.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Benjamin Franklin's Bastard, and reported the following:
Much to my delight, once I’d agreed to write this blog, I discovered how neatly page sixty-nine reflects several of the main themes in Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. Franklin fathers a child with one of the “low women” he admitted in his autobiography that he visited. On discovering the child’s existence and the poor chance at life it faced in its present circumstance, Franklin claims the child, brings it home to his brand-new common-law wife, Deborah Read, and asks her to raise the child as her own. Deborah, uneducated, unworldly, and already compromised by the desertion of a former husband, feels she has little choice, if she wishes to remain with Franklin, but to accept this child. Page sixty-nine describes the scene where Deborah meets her new son:
Deborah looked at the infant and saw Benjamin; there could be no doubt of it. There was the wide forehead and the dimpled chin; there, already, were the round, intelligent eyes that looked at every new thing with such great interest. But what of those things that hadn’t come from Benjamin? By now Deborah knew every inch of her husband’s square, solid flesh, and it couldn’t account for the pointed little chin, the delicate nose, the long, slender fingers.

Benjamin made as if to hold the child out to Deborah but she took a step back, concealing her cowardice by saying, “Let me get his pap.” She retreated to the kitchen and Benjamin followed; she set the bowl and spoon on the table and waved Benjamin to the chair before it, but he shook his head.

“His first meal must be from his new mother,” he said, pushing gently at Deborah’s shoulder till she’d backed up into the chair, placing the child in her arms. “Meet William,” he said. “William, meet your mother.” The small face puckered. Deborah dipped the spoon and thrust it at the infant – he took it at once in a great gulp that made him sputter; he took another and settled his surprising weight against her, his eyes – Benjamin’s eyes -- fixed on Deborah’s. She felt as she looked at him that he knew more than she did already, that he knew better than to trust her. Yes, already his eyes had drifted away and fixed on Benjamin as he ate, as if they were long acquainted.
This passage signals much of importance about Deborah Read: that she loves Franklin, that she struggles all her life to keep up with his stellar trajectory, that she doesn’t handle this sudden inheritance of his bastard well. It further reflects the insecurities, resentments, and jealousies that might accompany an adoption in which the child is a constant reminder of a partner’s betrayal. The scene foreshadows two other voices/themes in the book -- the bastard son and his struggle to find his way beside a father who eclipses him and a mother who can’t quite accept him, and the “low woman” who manages to physically but not emotionally relinquish her child. These three characters lock into orbit around the sun that is Franklin and propel the book forward from this early scene.
Learn more about the author and her work at Sally Cabot's Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Benjamin Franklin's Bastard.

--Marshal Zeringue