Critical Insights: Benjamin Franklin

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: Jack Lynch,
    Associate Professor of English at Rutgers
    University in Newark, New Jersey
October 2009 · 1 volume · 328 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-640-8
# of Pages: 328
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-641-5
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In-depth critical discussions of his life and works - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

Perhaps no figure is more central to the myth and promise of America than Benjamin Franklin. A true Renaissance man, Franklin conducted scientific experiments, wrote political satires and treatises, and is credited with numerous inventions. As volume editor Jack Lynch points out, Franklin's name "is the only name that appears on the four most important documents in the establishment of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the United States Constitution."

Edited and introduced by 18th century scholar Jack Lynch, Professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, this volume examines several facets of America's most famous polymath. Lynch's introduction considers the essays collected in this volume as he tries to pin down the iconic and larger-than-life Franklin. Clark Davis provides a biography of Franklin after which Bradley Bazzle considers the Autobiography as a central part of the American creation myth, part memoir, part performance.

Original essays by Neil Heims, Gurdip Panesar, Maura Grace Harrington, and Matthew Bolton collectively consider Franklin, his times, and his impact on American Culture. Heims examines the culture of 18th Century America and the very public figure of Franklin while Panesar considers the difficulties critics have had in painting a complete portrait of Franklin, due in large part to his multi-facetedness. Maura Grace Harrington looks at the Autobiography through the lens of fatherhood, both personal and spiritual while Matthew Bolton offers an original interpretation of the so-called "Lost Generation" as a response to Franklin's legacy.

The selection of reprinted essays begins with Sherry Ann Beaudrea and Stanley Finger's examination of the legacies of Franklin and his Dutch-born medical correspondent Jan Ingenhousz. This essay is followed by one by Betsy Erkkila, who suggests Franklin was partially responsible for a new conceptualization of the body. A. Owen Aldridge provides both careful close reading and a thorough consideration of biographical contexts in his consideration of Franklin's "The Elysian Fields." Aldridge is followed by Jennifer Jordan Baker, who argues that it's impossible to make sense of Franklin's world without an understanding of the economic situation his country faced. Jennifer T. Kennedy's essay is a consideration of Franklin the printer confronting death, and his writing as a kind of repetition. In the volume penultimate essay, Christina Lupton examines artistic recycling in both Franklin and Laurence Stern while in the volume's final essay Ralph Frasca considers Franklin in the context of his support of the freedom and responsibility of the press.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index


From "About This Volume"
Where does one begin discussing a figure as various, and as complicated, as Benjamin Franklin? Statesman, memoirist, philosopher, politician, inventor, wit, scientist, bon vivant—there are so many sides to Franklin that it is difficult to know where to start. Plenty of people have tried to sum him up; countless biographies, historical essays, and critical studies have striven to make us understand this most engaging of personalities. And yet he remains frustratingly sphinxlike, even as he remains perpetually familiar.

The intention of this collection is to bring together representative essays from a variety of critical perspectives, partly to give some sense of Franklin’s achievement but also to draw attention to some of the inconsistencies, contradictions, and even failings that made him who he was. The book tries to examine Franklin from many points of view, in the hope of offering a composite portrait—though with no expectations that even the composite portrait will be complete or comprehensive.

The collection opens with several short introductory essays before moving on to a section on Franklin’s critical contexts, which contains a series of wide-ranging overviews of his life, his works, and his legacy. Alonger and more focused section, “Critical Readings,” follows, with samples of critical close readings from a number of schools of thought. The volume is rounded out by a chronology of the important events in Franklin’s life, a list of his works, and a bibliography with suggestions for further reading.