Friday, 14 March 2014

Wilbur and Christian Smith

Wilbur and Christian Smith - When Families Fall Out

I've long wondered about the dysfunctional relationship renowned author Wilbur Smith had with his daughter Christian. Having read many of his novels, I found it surprising he'd only ever dedicated one book to Christian, the novel "Eagle in the Sky". Later I found that the dedication had changed in more recent editions...

Why the Interest in Christian Smith You Ask


The reason for my interest is simple: I knew Christian when I was younger. I first met Christian in Port Elizabeth while working a holiday job when I was about 14. It was the first summer after moving from Summerstrand to Mt Croix. Christian must have been 16 at the time, maybe 18 but seemed more mature than the average 16  yr old.

I found this young woman very attractive. I guess at that age the word is infatuated, or maybe I was just lustful, or both. At the time Christian represented to me a different outlook on life, a new more liberated way of thinking, outside the generally accepted standards of the time in PE, the conservative (Catholic) school I attended.

Our co-workers described her as wild. By the norms of the day I guess that was true. But a young man needs wildness in his life in order to grow and mature. Without it are we not doomed to follow in the footsteps of the terminally mundane figures we grew up around? Wild was the ultimate draw-card.

I was already drawn towards the "hippy" outlook on life, but really only had vague ideas what it was about. Christian seemed to embody this lifestyle in a real-life person. I guess she was the first person I met who could be described as a hippy, or neo-hippy at least.

Long Lasting Influence

While that initial friendship was short, just a summer holiday "romance", knowing Christian Smith left an indelible impression on me, one that influenced my life from that time on. I often think how dull my life could have been had we not met that summer.

I grew up that summer. That summer marked the point I started becoming a young adult. True sexual awareness, thoughts about life and the way I wanted to lead it, value systems; the things that mark the start of adulthood.

For a long time (a very long time) Christian set a standard I looked for in female companions, both bed partners and friends. I guess I still look for the free and wild, or just a bit of the hippy in women, 40 years later.

The Smith Family Estrangement - Domineering Father

Evidently Wilbur Smith has had little contact with his daughter since she was 13 and none since 2003. This report from provides the only publicly available information I could find. 

Evidently Wilbur couldn't accept his daughters way of doing things even at that age, an age a parent is supposed to have behave as an an adult with young offspring. But Wilbur belongs to an intolerant generation of Southern Africans. 

A generation whose treatment of, and attitude to, their offspring was steeped in conservatism and harsh discipline. The attitude of many of this generation was "do as I tell you - or bugger off". Which is evidently what happened with Christian and Wilbur.

All I can say in this regard is "Christian is better off without her father in her life. Guess who won't be buying or reading any more of his books!

A Novel Character


Despite Wilbur Smith's broken relationship with Christian, it seems he has still seen fit to use her as a character model in several of his books. The lead female character in "Warlock" is, without doubt to my mind, a portrayal of what he thinks his daughter's personality and outlook on life is like. And I'd say to some extent he's right.

The same is seen throughout many of his other novels, notably the serialised family sagas where the female anti-hero, the renegade or troublemaker, appears based on Christian.

But that's enough speculation about the family relationship...

The Last Time I Met Up with Christian Smith


Over the years from that first fateful meeting I had brief encounters with Christian. The last time in Cape Town, in March 1979.

As fate would have it, I bumped into another wild lady who'd made an impact in my life, Tracy (Tracy is another story though). We ended up going to visit a friend of hers; on the way she asked me if I knew Christian Smith... 

Well I wasn't sure who Tracy meant. After all there are many Smiths in this world - it's quite a common name,  I even have close relatives with that surname.

When we entered this person's flat, the recognition was instantaneous however. It was great to find out Christian had a small art-gallery somewhere in Cape Town. This last meeting of old friends was appropriate. I was at the end of one difficult phase of my life (involving National Service in those days) and beginning my life as a free, mature adult.

I left Cape Town for good a week or two later, and lost contact with both Christian and Tracy. The memories I retain of this woman are good ones.

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