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Synopsis

Foppish, impulsive, and philandering: William Jackson was every Georgian parent’s worst nightmare. Gentlemen were expected to be honorable and virtuous, but William was the opposite, much to the dismay of his father, a well-to-do representative of the East India Company in Madras. In The Profligate Son, historian Nicola Phillips meticulously reconstructs William’s life from a recently discovered family archive, describing how his youthful misbehavior reduced his family to ruin. At first, William seemed destined for a life of great fortune, but before long, he was indulging regularly in pornography and brothels and using his father’s abundant credit to swindle tradesmen. Eventually, William found himself in debtor’s prison and then on a long, typhus-ridden voyage to an Australian penal colony. He spent the rest of his days there, dying a pauper at the age of thirty-seven.

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

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