Profligate Son in History and Fiction

Rakes and Profligate Sons were common characters in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction as this review from the blog History in the Margins makes clear:

‘From Jane Austen’s Wickham through Charles Dickens’ array of extravagant cads to the latest Regency romance, the dissipated wastrel who throws away his family fortune, or at least his good name, is a familiar character to anyone who reads novels written (or set) in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century. They drink, whore, gamble, lie, cheat, and steal. Some attempt to marry–or kidnap–heiresses. Some attempt to push the rightful heir out of the family fortune. A desperate few take to the High Toby.  When they fail, as they generally do, some flee to the Continent. Others are shipped off to the colonies, either by weary families or the legal system. A few reform.  Fictional black sheep are fascinating, but they often left me wondering whether anyone ever really acted that way. According to historian Nicola Phillips, the answer is yes. In The Profligate Son or, A True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, & Financial Ruin in Regency England, she tells the story of a real-life Regency wastrel, tracing his downfall in agonizing detail. His story is as gripping, and more tragic, as that of any of his fictional counterparts.  ….

The story is fascinating …. Be warned, once you’ve read The Profligate Son, Regency wastrels will never look dashing again.’

 

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