71 pages 2 hours read

Zadie Smith

The Fraud

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Historical Context: Historical Allusions in The Fraud

The Fraud is a novel adapted from real-life events and people.

The main character, Eliza Touchet, is based on a real person also named Eliza Touchet. The real Eliza Touchet was indeed close to William Ainsworth. She had a child with him and died before he did, in 1869. This means that the real Eliza Touchet missed the Tichborne Claimant case. Smith uses her fictionalized figure of Eliza to highlight the disparities between men and women in 19th century England. The historical Eliza Touchet also knew Charles Dickens. In this novel, Dickens gifts Eliza a copy of A Christmas Carol, which is based on a real incident: In 2009, Eliza Touchet’s signed and personalized copy of the book became the most expensive Dickens title sold at auction. The connections, therefore, between the real Eliza Touchet and the men in this novel are essentially factual, but Smith uses Eliza’s relative anonymity to infuse her novel with the perspective of a shrewd, intelligent, but imperfect woman.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is a marginal but important character in The Fraud. His role is to challenge William’s career. Dickens becomes so famous—even globally—that when he dies, he is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside other famous writers.