Murder on her Mind: Did Edith Wharton write about Lizzie Borden? (part 1 of 3)

330px-lizzie_borden

Lizzie Borden, via Wikimedia Commons. Did she indeed “take an axe” and, well, you know?

At the Society for the Study of the American Short Story conference next week, I’m presenting a paper called “Edith Wharton’s Suspense Theater” that looks at her late short stories, including (if there’s room) “The Day of the Funeral,” “Confession,” “The Looking Glass,” and “Pomegranate Seed.”

But to answer the question that brought you here: why, yes, she did. In fact, Wharton wrote at least two pieces about the Lizzie Borden case.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Lizzie Borden, here’s the Wikipedia version. Shorter version: On the hot morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew, Lizzie’s father, and her stepmother, Abby, were murdered with an axe inside their home, which was locked from the inside. Lizzie was tried for and acquitted of the crime; after her acquittal, the murders remained unsolved. Lizzie Borden died in 1927.

Edith Wharton was fascinated by the case, and she fictionalized it twice.

The first is her story “Confession,” which, as she wrote to her sister-in-law Mary Cadwallader (“Minnie”) Jones on March 9, 1935, was “suggested by the Lizzie Borden case.”

“Confession” was first published in Storyteller 58 (March 1936): 64-85 (under title “Unconfessed Crime”) and then in The World Over, 1936. The story involves a mysterious “Mrs. Ingram” and her companion “Miss Wilpert” in Europe, but no spoilers here–you’ll have to read the story.

If you need to look up the original publication information on Wharton’s stories, I made a complete list here some years ago: https://edithwhartonsociety.wordpress.com/works/edith-whartons-short-stories-publication-information/

[To be continued tomorrow.]

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