THE GREAT PRETENDERS by Jan Bondeson

THE GREAT PRETENDERS

The True Stories Behind Famous Historical Mysteries

KIRKUS REVIEW

Continuing his series of historical investigations (Buried Alive, 2001, etc.), Bondeson reconsiders perennial tales of substituted infants, royal pretenders, wild children, and claimants to lapsed inheritances.

Many prior tracts, plays, and romances have covered the strange doings of these schemers and scoundrels, not to mention the beliefs of their credulous victims, and this author feels no need to search for the un-obvious. Was a taciturn Russian ascetic really the tsar who presided over the defeat of Bonaparte? What of the lost dauphin, child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, who turned up in the darndest places? (Though Bondeson neglects Twain’s Mississippi, he overlooks little else in the grand story of the little child in the Temple dungeon.) Was the famous Kaspar Hauser actually a lost prince, simply a belching vagabond, or something else? (The author has a credible notion.) Speaking of royalty, as a work like this must, some believe that the British throne itself may rightfully belong to a black South African. The expansive, notorious Tichborne claimant, Bondeson reminds us, had a malformation that would qualify him to play M. Butterfly better than the lost Wodehousian ninny he purported to be. A truly eccentric English nobleman was reputed to have secretly commuted, mainly underground, to life as a London tradesman. To solve that case, retired Detective Chief Inspector Littlechild of the Yard was summoned, with as much success as Lestrade would have had without Holmes. To his cogent critical analyses of these familiar cases, the author adds mention of the inevitable Anastasia pretenders, Lindbergh babies, and a surviving Princess Di, each essential to a cadre of never-say-die believers. Bondeson (Wales College of Medicine) examines hitherto neglected documents and adds his valuable medical knowledge to the combined myths and histories, noting the contributions and limitations of DNA testing.

Entertaining studies of classic imposters and a public inclined to be gullible even before the age of TV. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-01969-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2003




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