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The Profligate Son: Or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain [Kindle Edition]

Nicola Phillips
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Foppish, impulsive, and philandering: William Jackson was every Georgian parent’s worst nightmare. Gentlemen were expected to be honorable and virtuous, but William was the opposite, much to the dismay of his father, a well-to-do representative of the East India Company in Madras. In The Profligate Son, historian Nicola Phillips meticulously reconstructs William’s life from a recently discovered family archive, describing how his youthful misbehavior reduced his family to ruin. At first, William seemed destined for a life of great fortune, but before long, he was indulging regularly in pornography and brothels and using his father’s abundant credit to swindle tradesmen. Eventually, William found himself in debtor’s prison and then on a long, typhus-ridden voyage to an Australian penal colony. He spent the rest of his days there, dying a pauper at the age of thirty-seven.

A masterpiece of literary nonfiction as dramatic as any Dickens novel, The Profligate Son transports readers from the steamy streets of India, to London’s elegant squares and seedy brothels, to the sunbaked shores of Australia, tracing the arc of a life long buried in history.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The dangers of a profligate son is a persistent theme in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, and it was also a very real fear among the upper echelon of British families. At a minimum, such a son would bring shame and dishonor upon his family. He could also cause financial ruin. Phillips has written an absorbing case study of such a son and of the devastating effects of his behavior upon himself and his family. Using a recently discovered family archive, Phillips chronicles the short, unhappy life of William Jackson. He was the son of a prosperous official of the East India Company, who seems to have been an upright citizen and a loving father. When William began to act up as a teen, drinking and whoring, his father hoped he was just “high spirited.” But the son’s impulsiveness and criminal activities escalated, resulting in imprisonment and eventual transportation to a penal colony in Australia. Phillips eloquently fills out the bare bones of the known facts of the story. --Jay Freeman


Washington Times
“This gem of a book provides a cautionary tale… a fascinating story about a tempestuous relationship between father and son… There the tale would have ended, lost to history, or as in Thomas Hardy’s words, into ‘oblivion’s swallowing sea,’ except for the marvelous discovery and exquisite narrative skill of Nicola Phillips, who has produced a satisfying historical portrait that seems straight out of A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth or the pages of Jane Austen.”

The Washington Post
"[A] terrific book...[which] can can and should be read as a cautionary tale, albeit one told with style, flair and solid history.”

Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Phillips, who writes smooth and beguiling prose, declines to twist her story into a cautionary tale for our times, but the caution is there to be given its due consideration.”

The Wall Street Journal
“A tale of juvenile folly turning into serious crime is afforded by Nicola Phillips's splendid The Profligate Son, which chronicles the fraught relationship between the wealthy East India merchant William Collins Jackson and his son William in the early 19th century. Drawing on Jackson senior's manuscript ‘Filial Ingratitude’ (1807-14), Ms. Phillips charts the boy's chosen path to its sordid and inevitable end and in the process makes an age come wonderfully alive.”

Literary Review, UK
"The engine of this book is its author's empathy, but Phillips also has an eye for detail... The accounts of the court proceedings and the workings of the legal system in which the boy becomes entangled are as good as anything outside the pages of Bleak House....impossible to forget."

Shelf Awareness For Readers
“The Profligate Son is a fascinating (and all too familiar) story--even today, in our modern era of massive debts.”

London Historians
“A true Regency tale, with dollops of absorbing social, legal and criminal history thrown in, beautifully told. Warmly recommended.”

The Independent, UK
“An excellently researched book”

Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing tale of a Regency rake’s fast times and tragic unraveling that vivifies the history of Georgian England and colonial Sydney, Australia.”

Library Journal
“An entertaining read, aptly demonstrating how understanding the past can help us better understand our own world as well.”

"An absorbing case study… Phillips eloquently fills out the bare bones of the known facts of the story.”

Kirkus Reviews
"Phillips... portrays an entire social history through the sad unraveling of one newly rich family ruined by the rakish pursuits (blending into criminality) of the sole son and heir.... An immensely readable work of literary depths."

Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Verneys and The Rainborowes
The Profligate Son held me spellbound from start to finish. Nicola Phillips brings the seamy side of Regency England to life with remarkable clarity, and her anti-hero William Jackson’s headlong descent into a hell of his own making is so vivid and so foolhardy that more than once I wanted to reach into the book and shake some sense into him. A compelling read.”

Margaret R. Hunt, Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies, Amherst College
“Nicola Phillips has given us a compulsively readable story of a young man of good family who went dramatically astray in the fleshpots and gambling houses of Regency England. The book brings to life the glitter, the tawdriness, the promise and the heartbreak of the times in a way that few more conventional histories have done. At the same time it is a perceptive study of two flawed, headstrong men who had the signal misfortune to be father and son.”

Kate Mosse, author of the Languedoc Trilogy
"A gripping story of privilege and power, ungrateful sons and disappointed fathers in Regency England. Phillips brings the period to life with great authority and also sets the history in a thoughtful, modern context. A very enjoyable read."

Product Details

  • File Size: 1516 KB
  • Print Length: 362 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0465008925
  • Publisher: Basic Books (August 27, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C4GRW9U
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,762 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profligate son... August 31, 2013
Do you think YOU have problems with a wild teenage son or a disobedient daughter? Is a lot of your money going to lawyers to keep your kids out of trouble and pay off the debts they've acquired using unscrupulous means? Has your credit rating bottomed out? Well, as odious as all that is today, the same familial crises were occurring hundreds of years ago and British author Nicola Phillips tells the story of one such family in her new book, "The Profligate Son: Or a True story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain".

William Collins Jackson had left England in the 1780's to work for the East India Company and make his fortune. Despite some setbacks along the way in Madras, he did well, and after marrying an Englishwoman who had been visiting India, he and his wife and their new son returned to England. The son - the younger William Jackson - was born in 1791 and was the apple of his mother's eye and the bane of his father's existence.

Young William was, from an early age, a wastrel and drinker and an all-around troublemaker. Despite his father's attempt to educate his son, William either fled or was kicked out of every preparatory school he was enrolled in. He drank and debauched women - most of whom cooperated in the debauchery - and lied. But what William did without any thought at all was to run up bills by charging items to his father. Now, this was a time when credit of a sort was extended by stores to "gentlemen" who seemed to promise by their clothes and addresses to be worthy of that credit. Those stores along Bond Street and neighboring West End streets were particularly anxious to extend credit and enhance their own commercial standing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Engrossing September 3, 2013
By myrenae
You hear and read so many stories set in this era of young English dandies who squandered their fortunes in the pursuit of vice and pleasure, or were disinherited by wealthy benefactors for scandalous behavior, and were forced to live by their wits on the Continent, find a naive (or maybe old and unattractive) heiress to marry, or flee the country and try to start again in India or America. In the worst cases (as in this story), they were exiled to the penal colony of Australia or otherwise met a disastrous end in prison or squalor.

It's fascinating to read a factual account of one such young man that describes his demise and how it impacted his parents in such detail. It's not just "the same old story" in vague outline: it's the WHOLE story, brought to life with vivid accounts of the sights and streets of London and England, heedless rounds of drink and debauchery and chances given and lost again and again as this young man slowly destroys himself and his parents and loses every friend he has.

They always make it sound romantic, and sometimes these young men redeemed themselves and went on to lead somewhat respectable lives. But when you see the story unfold as it does here, there is nothing romantic about it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UnPutDownable October 26, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I could not put this book down and blew through it in a day and a half. Fascinating, tragic, well researched and based mainly on primary sources, this book reads as fluidly as any novel. It is really one of the best books I have read - and I read a LOT.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Eternal problems entitlement December 1, 2014
By vab
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I did enjoy this book - it was a very fast, easy read. I didn't wind up liking either the father or the son, but of the two, I felt rather more sympathy for the father. The son was just a spoiled brat with a really incredible sense of entitlement, who seemed really to believe that because he was a "gentleman" he shouldn't have to pay for what he wanted, & if anyone insisted, why, they were just wrong. Hard to understand that sort of mindset.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By kim5499
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just did not have a HOOK for me at the time I started it. read 2 chapters and lost interest.
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