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The Unfinished Life of Benjamin Franklin

Douglas Anderson

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Benjamin Franklin wrote his posthumously published memoir—a model of the genre—in several pieces and in different temporal and physical places. Douglas Anderson’s study of this work reveals the famed inventor as a literary adept whose approach to autobiographical narrative was as innovative and radical as the inventions and political thought for which he is renowned.

Franklin never completed his autobiography, choosing instead to immerse his reader in the formal and textual atmosphere of a deliberately "unfinished" life. Taking this decision on Franklin’s part as a starting point, Anderson...

Benjamin Franklin wrote his posthumously published memoir—a model of the genre—in several pieces and in different temporal and physical places. Douglas Anderson’s study of this work reveals the famed inventor as a literary adept whose approach to autobiographical narrative was as innovative and radical as the inventions and political thought for which he is renowned.

Franklin never completed his autobiography, choosing instead to immerse his reader in the formal and textual atmosphere of a deliberately "unfinished" life. Taking this decision on Franklin’s part as a starting point, Anderson treats the memoir as a subtle and rewarding reading lesson, independent of the famous life that it dramatizes but closely linked to the work of predecessors and successors like John Bunyan and Alexis de Tocqueville, whose books help illuminate Franklin’s complex imagination. Anderson shows that Franklin’s incomplete story exploits the disorderly and disruptive state of a lived life, as opposed to striving for the meticulous finish of standard memoirs, biographies, and histories.

In presenting Franklin’s autobiography as an exemplary formal experiment in an era that its author once called the Age of Experiments, The Unfinished Life of Benjamin Franklin veers away from the familiar practices of traditional biographers, viewing history through the lens of literary imagination rather than the other way around. Anderson’s carefully considered work makes a persuasive case for revisiting this celebrated book with a keener appreciation for the subtlety and beauty of Franklin’s performance.

Reviews

Reviews

A nuanced discussion of Franklin's life and thought.

This book deserves a special place on any library's shelf... Franklin was a master at segmenting and redistributing his experience in different formats, Anderson points out, and Franklin's autobiography is very much a part of that digressive practice... This study provides an illuminating insight into autobiography in general and the ways publishers and editors partly determine a book's structure and fate.

An interesting and thoughtful meditation on Franklin's autobiography. This is a new kind of approach—or, new for this generation—that orients readers toward the text in ways that are illuminating and productive.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
232
ISBN
9781421405230
Illustration Description
8 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
A Note to the Reader
Introduction: Accident and Design
1. Great Works and Little Anecdotes
2. Imposing Forms
3. The Scramble of Life
4. Litera Scripta Manet
5. Some Uses of

List of Illustrations
Preface
A Note to the Reader
Introduction: Accident and Design
1. Great Works and Little Anecdotes
2. Imposing Forms
3. The Scramble of Life
4. Litera Scripta Manet
5. Some Uses of Cunning
Conclusion: Segmented Serpent
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Douglas Anderson
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Douglas Anderson

Douglas Anderson is the Sterling-Goodman Professor of English at the University of Georgia and the author of several books, including The Radical Enlightenments of Benjamin Franklin, also published by Johns Hopkins.