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Lizzie Borden: Past and Present. Leonard Rebello. Al-Zach Press, Fall River, Massachusetts. 642 pages. US$49.95. ISBN 0-9670739-0-1.

The case of Miss Lisbeth Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, the fair New England parricide, is to America what Jack the Ripper is to old England, both cases transcending their lowest common multiple -- homicide -- and passing into almost-proud legend.

The legend was horn that sweltering August morning in 1892 when Lizzie's momma and poppa were, jointly but separately, despatched with an axe, after a shared family breakfast of mutton, mutton broth, johnny cakes, bananas, coffee and cookies.

When Abby and Andrew were, in that order, struck down, there were only two other people in the house at No. 92 Second Street -- Miss Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan, the Irish maid of all work.

Why should Mr. and the second Mrs. Borden have been so savagely murdered? The answer to that riddle may lie in a matter of money. For the Borden sisters, Emma and Lisbeth, both daughters of the first Mrs. Borden, seem to have been somewhat dour regarding their father's articulated intention of diminishing their patrimony to the favour of his new wife.

One week later, Lizzie was charged with the murders. But, ten months later, in June 1893, at the Courthouse in New Bedford, to widespread amazement an all-male jury acquitted her. She returned to Fall River, where, on her undiminished patrimony, she lived on in some style for another 35 years, dying, just short of her 67th year, in June 1927.

If, as is generally accepted today, Lizzie Borden was really guilty, a number of fascinating points arise and the whole affair becomes an intriguing puzzle, as well as an absorbingly interesting sociological study of certain aspects of late nineteenth-century American domestic economy -- albeit gone awry!

When, some years ago, I made pilgrimage to Fall River, I found the Borden house occupied by a printer whose avowed intention in life it was to keep everyone out of the historic premises. Latterly, Mr. Rebello informs us, the Borden House has been thrown welcomingly open as the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast/Museum. One can only trust that the matutinal fare provided by the proprietors is of a less homicide-provocative kind -- no mutton broth -- than that borne forth from Bridget Sullivan's kitchen that bloodstained Thursday morning 108 years ago.

Of one thing, however, there can be no manner of doubt, 'no probable possible shadow of doubt, no possible doubt whatever', Mr Rebellow is a peerless, enthusiastic, outstandingly industrious encyclopaedist of Bordeniana. His book is all-embracing. The only trouble is that his enthusiasm has slightly outpaced systematism; the corpus of the work is a shade difficult to comprehend in terms of logistics. But doubt not, everything is here. Precisely where to run it down though, can pose something of a problem.

That said, it is rosettes, rosettes all the way. The cliche 'indispensable' cannot be avoided. A mammoth work of massive labour deserving of the highest praise and admiration, no self-respecting student of the Borden enigma can afford to dispense with it.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2000

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