One of the obsessive compulsive aspects of blogging is checking how many people come to your site, and the route they take to get there. That's how I know that someone alighted here recently by searching on 'zadie + tichborne'. How this delivered my site as their destination, I don't quite know. But I suspect it means someone else has noticed something I spotted but haven't blogged about (yet) ... here goes.
Zadie of course means Zadie Smith. The Tichborne claimant was a mid Victorian cause celebre, when an Australian working man appeared claiming to be the long lost Sir Roger Tichborne, and demanding his estate. The claimant became a big radical cause, and by far the most commanding popular and courtroom drama of the day.
Some of Tichborne's family supported the claimant. Others were convinced he was bogus. The opposition to his claim was seen by many as aristocratic elitism - a mass movement was formed to support the claimant - his lawyer was elected to Parliament off the back of it - a Magna Charta Association was set up with a radical and reform agenda which extended well beyond the Tichborne case ... but the claimant failed, and was eventually jailed for perjury.
So, what's the link? Well in her new novel NW - more about that here - Zadie Smith makes a couple of glancing references to Tichborne. Here are the words (p180) of a law professor addressing Natalie and her peers on the limits of reason:
"... Hundreds of witnesses stand in the dock ... They all say: That's Tichborne. The man's own mother gets up there and points: That's my son. Reason tells us the claimant is ten stone heavier than the man he's claiming to be. Reason tells us the real Tichborne could speak French. And yet. And when 'reason prevailed', why did people riot in the streets? Don't put too much faith in reason. ..."
But then, in the Zadie-ish manner, a hundred pages later there's a silent codicil. As Natalie/Keisha is on her long, desperate walk, she finds herself beside a cemetery she had walked round as a child. 'Local people claimed Arthur Orton was buried in here somewhere. In all her figure of eights she never found him.' (p269)
Arhur Orton was the Tichborne claimant. The wiki entry reports: He died on 1 April 1898 in impoverished circumstances, and was given a pauper's burial. In "an act of extraordinary generosity", the Tichborne family allowed a card bearing the name "Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne" to be placed on the coffin before its interment.
The interment was, as far as I can make out, in Paddington cemetery - which is on Willesden Lane. So it all sort of fits. Fits the geography, the plot, and feeds in to issues of identity (and rationality) which are at the heart of the novel.
But how come her interest in the now decidedly obscure Tichborne story? Over to you, Zadie!
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