Wednesday, January 23, 2019

ALICE ADDERTONGUE by Benjamin Franklin

Rating: One raised eyebrow and a mildly baffled expression

Highlight of note: Benjamin Franklin wrote this piece with a female first person narrator, something most men of his age wouldn't have dared to do.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to say about this satire. I found it very difficult to follow. It is less bothersome about missing paragraph breaks than the last story in this collection, but every noun in this piece is capitalized, as though it were in German. The odd capitalization proved more confusing than I would have thought, particularly when paired with archaic speech patterns. (Note: this is how Franklin published things and wasn't uncommon at the time. I do wonder if maybe we should change it to modern convention when presenting it now, though.)

The narrator is clearly a caricature. She is a completely ridiculous person named Addertongue, so there's really no way to mistake this for something other than satire. It is also highly moralistic. Neither of these things are really surprising coming from Benjamin Franklin, but I do wish it had been a little more clever.

The entire piece is presented as a letter from a reader of a gazette save for a paragraph at the end in which the gazetteer replies. One Alice Addertongue is responding to an article on scandal, which I take from usage to have had a meaning closer to the modern meaning of gossip at the time of writing. Apparently the gazette has recently taken a stance again scandal in which they accused all woman of participating in scandal. Alice accuses that this is the author committing scandal himself by discussing a behavior and applying it to everyone in a gender. She has a valid point. Her next ascertain, however, is less solid, as she proceeds to opine that scandal serves a vital and important purpose that only idiots should wish to impede.

Alice goes on to tell us that she participates in scandal herself. In fact, she is an expert on the matter. She keeps a detailed journal of scandal and is adept at getting other people to discuss scandal via methods she's clearly spent a long time and a lot of mental energy devising. If a day goes by without her spreading scandal, she considers the day wasted. Our writer is not the most likable of characters, a fact which she acknowledges. However, she feels it is her public duty to make others aware of people's faults so that no one has a better reputation than they deserve.

All of this established, Alice goes on to bemoan that she is now suffering from a cold and a toothache. She says this is interfering with her ability to spread the stories she has received and begs the gazetteer's assistance. She says she's including some of the stories she's currently unable to spread herself and that she's long thought the gazette's readership numbers would be improved if they published more scandal.

We conclude with the reply from the gazetteer asserting that he doesn't want to publish the scandal stories she sent him because such news isn't really news. I wish Mr. Franklin had trusted his reader a little more and not felt we needed to be hit over the head with a hammer to understand his point.

I'm uncertain whether Franklin was attacking gossips or the media with this piece, or perhaps both. He was, of course, a newspaper man, and he had many opinions on what his peers chose to publish. He was adamant that he would not publish things that encourage immorality or which might cause real harm to a person, and those are both things that publishing gossip could potentially do. Even though the target of Alice's letter chooses not to publish the stories she has passed on to him, I can't help but assume there's a rebuke in there for the papers that would publish such things.

I tried to find a more educated discourse on this story and the background behind it, but failed to find anything not behind a paywall. If you want to read the story yourself, though, it can be found on in the National Archives.

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