The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology—the trial of Lizzie Borden—based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?
The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.
Cara Robertson is a lawyer whose writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, the Raleigh News and Observer, and the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. She was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Law School. A former Supreme Court law clerk, she served as a legal adviser to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford Law School. Her scholarship has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center of which she is a Trustee. She first started researching the Lizzie Borden story as a senior at Harvard, and published her first paper on the trial in the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities in 1997. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is her first book.
"With deft storytelling and convincing scholarship, Cara Robertson does the seemingly impossible by bringing new life to perhaps our oldest true-crime saga: the Gilded Age case of Lizzie Borden. By giving us Fall River, Massachusetts, in full and in context, as well as the panoply of characters who made the trial so sensational, Robertson has written that rarest of things: a page-turner with a point." —Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America
“A fascinating social history.” —Mary Higgins Clark, bestselling author of I’ve Got My Eyes on You
“The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a taut, understated masterpiece: the rare history book that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Cara Robertson scours the Trial of the (Nineteenth) Century with the perseverance of a scholar, the gimlet eye of a detective, and the elegance of a novelist. As she depicts the Borden murders and the young lady accused of committing them, Robertson reveals the seething class, ethnic, and gendered tensions that roiled the glittering surface of the Gilded Age.” —Jane Kamensky, author of A Revolution in Color and the Jonathan Trumball Professor of American History at Harvard University
"Robertson presents the story with the thoroughness one expects from an attorney...Fans of crime novels will love it." —Kirkus Review
"A fast-paced, page-turning read." —Booklist, starred review
"You won’t be disappointed." —Hello Giggles
"A fascinating and definitive account of the notorious trial of Lizzie Borden, the woman accused of the brutal murder of her father and her stepmother. Beautifully written and rich in detail, The Trial of Lizzie Borden sheds new light not only on the trial itself, but also on the setting, the period, and, in a sense, on the American soul at the end of the nineteenth century. —Lawrence M. Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law, Stanford University