franklin in france


The words Franklin in France are pretty much guaranteed to elicit a smile, a raised eyebrow, a mischievous wink, and at least one of the following words: frisky, randy, lecherous, dissolute. In great part this is the legacy of the portraitists: the French Franklin has made his way into our imagination courtesy of the artists who have relied on him as an excuse to paint a crop of European beauties, and a lot of European cleavage. It helps to remember that those are 19th- and 20th-century portraits, and that Franklin went to France in the l8th century. It also helps to remember that he has never been played on the screen by Nick Nolte; that was Jefferson in Paris. It helps as well to remember that Franklin’s most difficult colleague in France was John Adams, who contributed more to making Franklin a ladies’ man than did Franklin himself. Franklin went to Paris in l776 not on a lark, or to cement his reputation as a rake, but on a crucial mission. When he crossed the ocean that November he did so for the seventh time in his life—and for the first time as a traitor.

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