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Basic Books
  • Hardcover
  • $28.99 / $32.00 CAN
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-465-00892-6
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."

The Profligate Son

Or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency Britain

By Nicola Phillips

Based on an extraordinary discovery in a dusty archive, a shocking, bawdy, and tragic tale of ambition and profligacy in Georgian England.

A profligate son was every Georgian parent's worst nightmare. To his father, William Jackson's imprudent spending, incessant partying, and sexual adventures were a sure sign he was on the slippery slope to ruin. But to his friends, William was a "damned good fellow," a charming, impeccably dressed young gentleman with enviable seductive skills who was willing to defend his honor in duels. Mr. Jackson and his son viewed each other across a generational gap that neither could bridge, and their flawed relationship had catastrophic consequences for their family.

In The Profligate Son, historian Nicola Phillips hauntingly reconstructs this family tragedy from a recently discovered trove of letters and court documents. After Mr. Jackson's acquisition of a fortune during his service for the East India Company in Madras was undermined by false accusations that ruined his career, he invested all his future ambitions in his only son. William grew up in great comfort and was sent to the best schools in the country. But when the family moved to London, the teenager rebelled against the loneliness and often brutal regimes of public schooling and escaped to explore the pleasures of the town with his wealthy friends. His attempts to impress his peers led him into disastrous levels of debt that resulted in his imprisonment and ever more illegal efforts to satisfy his creditors, which appalled his prudent, sternly moralistic father. Mr. Jackson decided that the only way to combat his son's wayward behavior was to completely cut him off. In doing so, he condemned William to repeated imprisonment and a perilous voyage to an Australian penal colony. In Sydney William sought to rebuild his life with a family of his own, but even there his father's legacy brought further tragedy.

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

Nicola Phillips is a Lecturer in History at Kingston University, London and author of Women in Business. She lives in Surrey, England.

Hachette Book Group