Annette Holba – The Most “Cerebral” of Lizzie Authors

05 Jul

The newest book out on the Lizzie Borden case is Annette Holba’s (pictured above) Lizzie Borden Took an Axe, or Did She?- A Rhetorical Inquiry, <teneo>// press, 2008, 170 pages, softcover.

I met Annette Holba online as a result of her interest in attending the now cancelled “Lizzie Borden Conference 2008” although I had been familiar with her writing for several years. As Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Plymouth State University, New Hampshire, she also holds a B.A. in Law & Justice Studies from Rowan University, an M.A. in Liberal Studies from Rutgers, and obtained her Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Duquesne University. Published in a number of Journals, including The Lizzie Borden Quarterly, The Hatchet, World Leisure Journal, Journal of Social and Natural Philosophy, Pennyslvania Speech Communication Annual, New Hampshire Journal of Education, and Florida Communication Journal among others, I have found her to be the most “cerebral” of all Lizzie authors. Why? Because my pea brain can hardly follow some of her writing, that’s why.

In this book, Annette employs Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical theory as a means to look “through the lens” to gain a better understanding of the Borden case – “one that might shatter the myth of Lizzie Borden’s guilt.” Actually, what Holba does is draw from several previously published writings which makes up the majority of this 170 page book.

Kenneth D. Burke, 1897-1993

The book begins “easy reading” enough in its Introduction of “The Cast, The Facts, The Story”, although the first of 17 errors in those 10 pages begins with the second sentence stating that Andrew Borden was “one of the wealthiest individuals in Fall River at that time.” He was not. Not even close to some of the Braytons, Remingtons and other Bordens, not to mention E. P. Charlton. But still its a good overview and the 17 errors in 10 pages are mostly minor and derived from the perpetual misinformation from other published books. Corrective action? Two words: Source Documents. Let me say it again, Source Documents. One more time: Source Documents. Okay, I’m done now.

There is a whole intellectual movement in the rhetoric of inquiry theory, and even spending two hours researching it, reading some essays, skimming through others….I still don’t comprehend it all. Perhaps its because I’m more pragmatic and a linear thinker. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Capricorn. Perhaps its because I’m a senior citizen and gazillions of my brain cells have already burned out. I dunno. But I know this: After all her arguments with the application of Burke’s theory and looking through that lens, Annette misses or at least fails to point out the true reason of why the police and other authorities handled Miss Borden with kid gloves. She was a Borden. And to understand the significance of that one has to understand what it meant to be a Borden in 1892 in Fall River. And to understand the significance of THAT one has to know Fall River’s history. So even if I *could* understand all of what she writes to make her point, I most likely would not agree with it. Having said that, and before I sound unfairly negative about this book, let me quickly add that any time we can have a new book on the case – good or bad – is something I’m always grateful for. In this case, Annette has given us a well written, well organized and documented book that applies something NEW and DIFFERENT to this mystifying case. And that’s no easy trick. Clearly, her scholarly erudition will appeal to a special niche audience of the higher educated than the usual market who buy Lizzie books.

I *do* recommend this book. Not only for a collectible, but for looking through a different “lens”. And even if you don’t understand all of it – what you will understand will give you new ways in which to ponder old puzzles of this continuing connundrum. That was Ms. Holba’s intent. And that alone is worth the price.

So, hats off to you, Annette. 🙂

Came across these remarks from poster “wordweaver” on Annette’s book from a Lizzie chat forum which relate to the above:

Age: 48
Zodiac: Leo
Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 2:28 am
Posts: 231

Location: Silicon Valley
The time here is: 7:16 am

PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:43 am Post subject: Reply with quote

I’ve got mine from Amazon. From the point of view of Borden researchers, the meat of the book consists of five essays previously published in The Hatchet or the LBQ. Dr. Holba has cleverly packaged these as a college textbook designed to teach students to use critical thinking skills to analyze narratives of all kinds. Lizzie Borden’s story is a good choice for this: it has blood, mystery, murder, and hints of unsavory sex; it’s a story that almost everybody has heard about but whose facts and folklore are widely divergent; there is a great deal of written evidence from the time and a number of retellings.The Lizzie researcher who isn’t interested in critical theory is unlikely to find anything new here.

The Lizzie researcher who is interested in narratives qua narratives will wonder why there isn’t a chapter explaining Lizzie’s lifelong notoriety in terms of Michel Foucault’s carceral continuum.


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One response to “Annette Holba – The Most “Cerebral” of Lizzie Authors

  1. Marilyn Marques Piggott

    August 26, 2016 at 5:15 AM

    Sometimes we think a little too deeply……just saying. 🙂


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