Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Recent Reading: "A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight"

A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight by Victoria Lincoln

This is more than just another look at the notorious Lizzie Borden ax murders. Lincoln not only grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, Borden's hometown before and after the murders of her father and stepmother, but in the same neighborhood where Lizzie bought the home that she would live in for the rest of her life. Lincoln's parents and grandparents traveled in the same society and professional circles as the Bordens, and as a child she'd had some minor interactions with an older Lizzie.

Lincoln incorporates the societal mores and quirks of Fall River into this telling of the Borden family dynamics, the murders, Lizzie's trial, and how the town viewed the accused before, during and after her trial. She also has some keen insight on Lizzie's personality and character, and how that was shaped by Fall River society. Being a local, she was also able to uncover some previously unshared records that helped expand the story.

One thing I found jarring was how Lincoln for some reason felt compelled to repeatedly insult Abby Borden, Lizzie's stepmother. Simply pointing out that she was obese once would have been sufficient, but multiple times this victim is almost vindictively described as "fat", and in other passages as "dismally uninteresting" and "a lonely, self-pitying glutton". I'm not sure what Lincoln was going for by insulting this poor woman time and time again, but it was distracting.

A Private Disgrace was published in 1967 and won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best non-fiction crime book. Apparently Lincoln had wanted to write about Lizzie Borden for some time but was discouraged due to the sheer volume of books available on the subject. Fortunately, she didn't listen to the naysayers.

When I was small, I was shy with other children but quick to make friends with grownups; yet I never got far with Lizzie. Occasionally I tried to talk to her while she was out filling her bird-feeding station and feeding the squirrels, but she never quite seemed to see or hear me. It damped conversation.

In school, I began to make friends of my own age, and observed with interest that one was supposed to shudder and giggle when Miss Borden's name was mentioned. I asked Mother why.

"Well, dear, she was very unkind to her father and mother."

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