71 pages 2 hours read

Zadie Smith

The Fraud

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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The Complexities of Authenticity and Narrative

Content Warning: This section of the guide discusses racism and enslavement, including explicitly racist ideas from the 19th century.

The Fraud is about fraudulent behavior and fraudulent people, with the Tichborne trial at its center embodying the complexities of determining authenticity and which narrative is the true one. Authenticity is also frequently linked to the idea of crafting and sharing narratives, especially regarding who gets to tell what story.

Arthur Orton’s claim to be Sir Roger Tichborne captures the nation’s attention because the case echoes society’s class anxieties. If it is possible for a commoner—a regular butcher from Australia—to gain access to the elite through spinning a false narrative, then access to the upper-class realm is no longer about lineage and wealth, but about who can present themselves as a nobleman most convincingly. At stake here is the loss of the upper class’s power over the lower classes, a caste system that has existed for centuries and which ensures that the wealthy stay wealthy while the poor have no upward mobility. Also notable in this fraud case is the discussion about authentic displays of identity markers: For example, Arthur Orton’s inability to speak French is an indication that he was not educated in the types of schools the English elite attend, calling his authenticity into question.