October 25, 2013

Book Review: The Profligate Son or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain by Nicola Phillips


William Jackson had incredible advantages available to him at birth. The only heir of a well-off gentleman who had made his fortune in India, William stood to inherit a large fortune. Sadly, starting in his early teens, he became the plague of his parents' life--constantly running away from school, gambling away his allowance and consorting with prostitutes.

Although Regency England allowed for a great deal of license in society, William's actions soon put him beyond the pale. Owing money to creditors was acceptable, but lying about debts, forging signatures and refusing to pay friends was shocking. William's behavior quickly escalated after he left school, and he ended up in debtors' prison.

Mr. Jackson refused to pay any of William's debts, washing his hands of his degenerate, unrepentant son. After several years of legal maneuvering, William could no longer avoid the inevitable, and was sentenced to be transported to the penal colony in Australia, where he slowly declined into abject poverty and alcoholism.

Nicola Phillips's The Profligate Son: Or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain deftly weaves together letters from William and his father, and other family members, along with the unpublished text of Filial Ungratitude, which Mr. Jackson wrote to defend his actions in disowning William, and historical information about the state of prisons and the legal system in 19th-century England. The Profligate Son is a fascinating (and all too familiar) story--even today, in our modern era of massive debts.

As an avid Georgette Heyer reader, I found it absolutely enthralling to see the dark/real side of Regency life. In Heyer books they often make reference to people being in debt and to debtor's prisons, but I had no idea what the reality was like.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Sure!

Do you know much about Regency history?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And the image is an Amazon affiliate link; thanks for supporting Quirky Bookworm!