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Lizzie Borden Connection: The Cotton Web: Barnabas Olney & M.C.D. Borden – Fiction Based on Fact?

03 Feb

(Recycled post)

It’s a brand new year, so I’ve changed up my WordPress theme.  I may change it again.   🙂

(Originally posted on 2/26/2008)

Too lazy to create something new just yet so here’s a recycled post.

No, it’s not Elizabeth Taylor in this 1960 jacket cover designed by Ray Pollak, but it could have been since Liz looked like that in 1960. Rather the cover depicts the main character, Kitty McCarran, in Barbara Hunt’s 1958, 350 page fictional story centered in Fall River and based on historical fact. It’s basically the story of a poor, 20 year old Irish immigrant beauty who arrives on the steamship Priscilla the day before Christmas in 1901, to stay with relatives.

From the book jacket: “Barnabas Olney, the leading mill owner in Fall River, was a man of deep compassion with a rigid New England conscience that set him apart from the turbulent, grasping commercial world around him. But to Olney’s son, Lucian, sensual and cushioned from the realities of life by his father’s wealth and position, nothing mattered except money and his own pleasure. It was Lucian that Kitty determined to marry. Before long, she discovered that even her iron will was powerless against a code that regarded as unthinkable marriage between an Irish immigrant mill worker and the aristocratic son of a leading mill owning family.”

There are few fiction books on Fall River or the Lizzie Borden case that I would recommend, but I recommend this one. The Cotton Web is a good read because of its basis in fact and the sharp clarity with which Barbara contrasts the lives and lifestyles of these two classes. Anyone who has ever visited Fall River and gazed upon those 5-story granite or red brick mills with their towering chimineys and bell towers, or driven down Main Street, or seen the tenement houses and imagined the weary walk back from a 12 hour work day, cannot help but to relate to the accurate descriptions she so beautifully pens within its pages.

Miss Hunt goes to the heart of the difference between the mill owners/managers and the mill workers in the second and third paragraphs below.

I can’t help but be intrigued by Miss Hunt’s notation preceding the Contents page of her book: “Although the historical events used as the background of this novel are accurate and true, the characters, the plot, and the cotton mills principally concerned in the story are all fictitious. I’m deeply indebted to my Fall River friends for their long memories, their books which they lent me so freely, and their patience in answering my many questions.”

I find it intriguing because of the similarity to a true life scandal involving Matthew Chaloner Durfee Borden’s third son, Matthew S. Borden whose life ended tragically, and the fictional Barnabas Olney’s son Lucian, whose life ended…..well, you’ll have to read the book. But it occurred to me in reading that notation that perhaps Miss Hunt’s “friends”, with their long memories, told her the true story of another of Fall River’s private disgraces concerning a Borden.

MCD Borden was born July 18, 1842 in Fall River. He had one of the best pedigree’s of all Bordens. A contemporary of Andrew Borden (Lizzie’s father), MCD was the 6th of 7 children born to Colonel Richard Borden (1785-1874) and Abby W. Durfee. He married Harriet M. Durfee in 1865 and they had 7 children, including 3 sons. MCD was the driving force that set Fall River back on a path of upward expansion. He represented the Borden-Durfee interests in New York. With the Braytons he founded the BMC Durfee Trust Company, converted the Iron Works completely to textiles and built the largest textile corporation in the United States. He was a compassionate man regarding his employees and his mills were not struck by the labor unions when his relatives’ mills were. He died May 27, 1912 in Rumson, Monmouth, New Jersey.

But he had his own scandal. His son, Matthew, had fallen in love with the daughter of a Jewish tailor, one Mildred Negbauer. Not having the kind of pedigree for a Borden to marry into, this incurred MCD’s wrath. It turned into a scandal when it was found out the impetuous Matthew had actually secretly married the “low class” Mildred. MCD stepped in and persuaded her to accept payment to have the marriage dissolved. She accepted the payment, and the young Matthew went on to graduate from his father’s alma mater, Yale University. Matthew then went on to medical school and became a doctor. However, after which, he and Mildred renewed their torrid romance. About 4 years later, they re-wed, again without his father’s blessings and the angered MCD Borden actually disinherited this youngest son. In fact, it was reported that Matthew asccepted a million dollars not to contest his father’s will. In the summer of 1914, Dr. Matthew S. Borden, while driving in Cape May County, New Jersey, was racing a locomotive to a grade crossing. The train won. Matthew lost his life, taking the lives of three others with him.

So, did the parallels in The Cotton Web find some inspiration from the tragic true life events? Was MCD Borden Barbara Hunt’s inspiration for the character of Barnabas Olney? Were some of the characteristics and experiences of Lucian Olney meant to be partially based on Matthew S. Borden? Maybe. Maybe not. But the similarities are striking.

Sources:

Rumson, Shaping a Superlative Suburb (The Making of America Series), Randall Gabrielan, Arcadia Press, p41.

The Durfee-Borden Connection, Men in Business, Robert K. Lamb essay, edited by William Miller.

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2 responses to “Lizzie Borden Connection: The Cotton Web: Barnabas Olney & M.C.D. Borden – Fiction Based on Fact?

  1. Mary

    March 26, 2008 at 9:27 PM

    Very interesting book. I can’t wait to pick it up. I’ve been so enjoying the line of fiction based on fact books. I just finished a wonderful book that I think will become a classic. It’s called, A Place To Belong, by first-time author Paul Miller. It’s a story about a young boy who experiences a horrendous childhood in a very tough time in history. Who he becomes as an adult is someone of understanding and forgiveness. A must read. I’m recommending it to all my reader friends.

    Thank you again for a very interesting book and post.

    I’m heading to S.F. in a few weeks, I hope the weather is warmer!

    Mary :>)

     
  2. dawn ledoux

    August 23, 2014 at 5:28 AM

    LOVED this book, but I borrowed it. I cant find it anywhere to purchase. any ideas?

     

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