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The Profligate Son: Or, a True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency England Hardcover – 24 Oct 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199687536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199687534
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 2.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 449,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


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. --Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Verneys and The Rainborowes

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. --Margaret R. Hunt, Professor of History and Women s and Gender Studies, Amherst College

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. --Kate Mosse, author of the Languedoc Trilogy

“A tale of juvenile folly turning into serious crime is afforded by Nicola Phillips’s splendid The Profligate Son, .... [which] charts the boy’s chosen path to its sordid and inevitable end and in the process makes an age come wonderfully alive.” -- Henrik Bering, Wall Street Journal

“[A] terrific book ... told with style, flair and solid history.” -- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“This is an engrossing tale of a Regency rake’s fast times and tragic unravelling that vivifies the history of Georgian England and colonial Sydney, Australia.” -- Publishers Weekly

“An immensely readable work of literary depths.” -- Kirkus Reviews

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

About the Author

Dr Nicola Phillips is an expert in gender history and a lecturer in the department of History and Politics at Kingston University. Her first book was on women in business from 1700 to 1850, and her research focuses on eighteenth-century gender, work, family conflict, and criminal and civil law. Nicola is also an advocate of public history. A co-founder of Kingston University's Centre for the Historical Record, she is also a member of the National Archives User Advisory Group and the Historical Association's Public History Committee, and has acted as a historical consultant for the National Trust, the Royal Mail, and Addidi Wealth Ltd. She has also contributed to radio and TV programmes on gender history.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Profligate Son is a beautifully written and well presented book and I highly recommend it.
The story, set in the early 1800's, follows the life of a beloved son William Jackson. Born in India, his father was a successful employee of the East India Company. When the family return to England their fortune is made and with it comes affluence and wealth and all its trappings. As William grows up it is unfortunately the trappings which most appeal to him. Unlike his morally principled and cautious father, William hankers after a young gentleman's life filled with the excitement of wine, women and song along with accruing debts, carousing in the dark streets of London and duelling with pistols when offended - hence the label of profligate behaviour.
But William did not see things this way at all. Indeed, he considered his behaviour normal, of no serious consequence and only what a spirited young gentleman was entitled to. Unfortunately, these were the times of Regency England when misdemeanours of this kind could lead straight to the gallows, the prison hulks anchored in the Thames or shackled below deck and transported off to Australia.
As William played a dangerous game staying a step ahead of a growing number of enemies and creditors, which he did with a swagger, his father despaired and filial love was pushed to the limit.
The book's author, Nicola Phillips, does not judge William in his reckless behaviour nor does she pass judgment on his father as he struggled to contain his son's excesses nor the traders who so willingly offered credit to ensure a sale. Phillips does not wallow in sentimentality either. Rather, she acknowledges the human frailties of her subjects and tells a true story of family disintegration which led to financial ruin and tragic outcomes with deep empathy and understanding of the human spirit.
This book of history will appeal to a wide range of readers.
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By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 Mar. 2015
Format: Hardcover
Young William is a nightmare for his middle-class family from the start. We know little about his childhood, but he seems to have been much loved. For all that he wasn’t gifted with much common sense. At the age of 16 he has vastly inflated ideas of his station in life. He made a mess of his various periods at school with the result that his father began to despair of him. It is hard to have much sympathy for William’s block-headed narcissism.

This book chronicles his shameful fall from grace, resulting in his father refusing to allow him to find refuge in his own home. William wants to appear to be a well-to-do man about town but he doesn’t know when to call a halt to womanising, drinking and borrowing. He’s living on credit, and at the age of around 18, he goes too far and commits a fraud that inevitably leads to imprisonment. Phillips is instructive about the various spongeing houses and the mounting dangers of the prison regime in which he finds himself.

It’s a matter of fraud that does for him when he tries to forge a cheque. Debt, these days doesn’t usually end with a prison term, but the price had to be paid, in the 1800s, exorbitant though it might be. William had behaved disgracefully, defrauding friends and shopkeepers but the worst was to come when he contacted an old servant, Betty, and conned money out of her.
When debt was compounded by fraud it could be a far more serious matter. Of course, the upper classes could get away with things – witness the astounding debts of the Prince of Wales of that time. William was only middle-class, however and he was sentenced to seven years deportation to Australia.
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By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 18 July 2016
Format: Hardcover
This book was referred to when I read another book recently, (An Infamous Mistress, by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden). It sounded most intriguing, so I made a point of looking it out. It is an absolutely wonderful read, hugely interesting, and extremely tragic as a tale of social and familial history of the eighteenth century. While a non-fiction book, the story that unfolds herein is utterly engrossing, and highly engaging, and is written in a most informative and enlightening way.

The profligate son was William Jackson, the dearly loved and only son of William Collins Jackson and his wife Jane. Born in 1791 in India, William and his mother had returned to England while his father continued in his role as an East India man. But in 1798, Mr Jackson made an apparent error in his dealings with one of the local leaders, and the Company recalled him to England. In 1803 Jackson was acquitted of all the charges by the Court of Directors, but Jackson felt that his reputation had suffered. While a wealthy man by the standards of the time, his character had been impugned, and the remainder of his life was spent trying to live up to the standards that he imposed on himself, and on his family, with tragic consequences for his son.

Striving to give his son the best possible education for the life of a gentleman’s son, and a gentleman himself, Jackson placed William with highly recommended educational institutions, but William seemed determined to ruin every chance he was given, and the chances for a good education grew slimmer with every discouragement. By the age of twenty, William was already the despair of his father, but Jackson was still grimly determined to try and make William learn the lessons he felt he needed to.
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