Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan

Lady Franklin's Revenge

Lady Franklin’s Revenge is the biography of Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the explorer Sir John Franklin. It covers her youth, her marriage to Sir John, her travels in Europe and elsewhere, and their time in Tasmania. The book ends with several chapters on the searches for Sir John, many financed by her or made with her encouragement, and with her rewriting of the history of Arctic exploration to make Sir John Franklin the discoverer of the North-West Passage.

As I read Lady Franklin’s Revenge I grew to dislike the woman intensely. She was self-centred and a snob. In fact, in my opinion she should never have married Sir John Franklin. She wasn’t prepared to be a mother to his daughter from his first marriage and she seemed to prefer travelling to spending time with her husband. She interfered when she should have left well alone, and pushed her husband into an Arctic expedition that proved fatal. After all that, driven by guilt and the need to hang on to Sir John’s money for as long as possible, she spent most of her step-daughter’s inheritance on searches for Sir John long after any hope of his survival.

At the end of the book I wasn’t sure who Lady Jane Franklin had had revenge on, or why she needed revenge, unless she was getting revenge on the people who ruined Sir John’s reputation in Tasmania. She certainly ruined the reputation of a brave and resourceful explorer, John Rae, simply because he took the word of some natives. Lady Franklin’s Revenge portrays her as a remarkable woman. This she undoubtedly was but, having read this book, she wasn’t somebody I’d want to meet.

Lady Franklin’s Revenge is well written and I found it very interesting. It gives a balanced view of Sir John Franklin and explains why he had problems in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land until Lady Franklin campaigned to have the name changed). The notes at the end of the book are very well done, giving plenty of additional information where other history books just give historical sources.

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