Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Personal

There is something about handwriting that links us to the writer; or at least, we are under the delusion that it does. I must admit to a naive delight in handling a scrap of paper or parchment that a real person has toiled over, marking in their own quite individual way, even if that person is entirely unknown to me.
I guess that is why people collect autographs. A cricket bat or a sports shirt or a CD or a concert program or a book is all very well as a piece of memorabilia, but so much more desirable if somebody associated with it has scrawled their signature and a message on it. I guess we feel in some way that it connects us to our heroes.
When I was a young thing at school, all the authors that we read were dead. So recently I resolved to make an effort to read some literature by people who are still alive. That's how I came to be reading Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man. Somewhat depressing book, full of screwballs and losers. Perhaps the saddest thing about it is that the protagonist (he could not be called a hero), who trades in autographs but is only interested in collecting for himself the autograph of one elderly film actress, ends up discovering that he has invented a persona and a life quite different to that of the owner of the autograph. 
I guess we might be doing the same thing when we immerse ourselves in those historical documents penned by people involved in the affairs of the day. Still, when you know that somebody was clerk of the council during the minority of Henry VI, became bishop of Chichester as well as Keeper of the Privy Seal, and ended up murdered in the street by a mob in Portsmouth because the folk were angry about the losing of some possessions in France, you have to think that your romances and fantasies could be no more exotic and out there than the simple historical truth. It's not just paleography any more, it's personal.
There are people who claim that all history is fiction, but who cares!
Photograph by permission of the National Archives, London E28/G8/18


Susan Higginbotham said...

What a beautiful signature!

Anonymous said...

Yes, probably so it is