Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: “Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It?” by David Rehak

(Recycled post)

The third and revised printing of David Rehak’s 270 page softcover book, Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It?, contains a never before seen note written in Lizzie’s hand shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. This book is now available (along with Mr. Rehak’s other books) thru Lulu Press as seen by clicking HERE.

This is a different kind of Lizzie book. Traditionally, the Lizzie books have a sequential, narrative progression, spilling forth the saga of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden against the backdrop of Fall River, Massachusetts and peppered with some new (and often outrageous) theory of who dunnit. Not this book. No long, flowing narratives here. No in-depth research filling chapter after chapter. Instead Dave takes us on a thoroughly enjoyable Mr. Toad’s wild ride weaving in and out, up and down, over and around and back again, giving us punches of “in your face” data to quickly absorb, question, and quickly move on.

In the Introduction he says he deals with the facts “as we know them”. Well, not entirely. For example, an early error is in the constricted Timeline that has John Morse visiting his niece and nephew, “the Emerys” on Weybosset street. Nonetheless, with almost bullet-point speed he whisks us through “Lizzie didn’t do it”, then rebounds with “Lizzie did it” having laid out the basics and offers conclusions – not opinionated but taken from reportings of the day.

Then we are off and flying again into the skies of “whys”. Why was Lizzie thought to be a lesbian – featuring Nance O’Neil; why does Lizzie linger; why was Lizzie a romantic being, and so on. Along the read-ride we bump into Lizzie’s alledged boyfriend (David Anthony), the alleged illegitimate son of Andrew (William S. Borden), her disloyal friend (Alice Russell), her loyal supporter (Mary Livermore). If television’s TMZ and “Access Hollywood” were turned into a book on Lizzie, this would be it. Fast flashes that move from one salacious tidbit to another, the reader learns something new, re-processes something already known, and finds points to question and challenge – depending upon the level of expertise of the reader.

While Mr. Rehak asserts he makes no claim as to her guilt or innocence, it is clear he has a real affection for the inscrutable Miss Borden and sways from an unbiased hand more than once. For this we can forgive him. Most authors attempting to maintain neutrality often write with a slight transparency allowing the reader to draw the correct conclusion.

There are two things that have never been published in any book on the Borden case before and they appear in this book only. One is revealed to the public in printed form for the first time.

First, this portrait of Andrew J. Borden as a young man – perhaps taken at the time he married Sarah Morse Borden. Neither this image or similar image has appeared in a book up to this time. Second, and more importantly, something “new” in Lizzie’s own hand: a note she wrote not long after the sinking of the Titantic wanting the initial “B” placed on toiletry items for her matching case. It gives us insight into Lizzie’s own vanity, her keen eye for quality, and maybe even tells us how much that “B” as in B O R D E N meant to her.

I have permission from author Dave Rehak to include that note in this blog so here it is as introduced in his book.



Below are images from my own digital copy of the original note.

I would recommend to any Bordenia collector to purchase Dave’s book for these images alone. However, as the reader traverses through the uneven flow of these pages, he/she will come upon many new images not published previously except in his own editions. In addition, one can’t help but chuckle at some of the fantasy in the form of poems, psychic contacts with meeting Lizzie, and particularly “Lizzie’s New Hat”, all the more solidifying the fact this is like no other Lizzie book and stands as an “Anomaly of Audacity” to put a twisted contemporary pun on it.

David Rehak has done us all a favor, regardless of the factual accuracy and lack of scholarly research and citations. He has given us a marvelous compendium representative of the orbit that spins around our Miss Lizzie, and he’s done it with originality, good humor, and a fast track ride wholly entertaining and worthy of our attention.

I wrote about this new edition coming out in a previous blog entry where I explained the facts of why a second edition was “rushed to print.” This third edition has corrected the abysmal editing errors that were an unfortunate result. You can read why this happened HERE. If you have the first edition – hold on to that baby – it’s value just soared! And having a collection of all 3 is what the true Borden collector aspires.

It was my pleasure to provide Dave with several of the images in the book, some not published before. In the 7 years I have known him, I’ve found him to be a kind man – a sensitive man, and one I’m proud to call a friend. I recommend you purchase this unique collectible and treat yourself to that wild ride! πŸ™‚


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Annette Holba – The Most “Cerebral” of Lizzie Authors

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. πŸ™‚

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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Book Review: The Lizzie Borden “Axe Murder” Trial

”Live life liberated! Better to be direct and honest than false and phoney. Image and reputation are transient perceptions of what other people think, not what they know.”

The following is from an book review done nearly 8 years ago.Β  I still haven’t changed my mind, but it is worthy of purchase for hard core collectors.


The Lizzie Borden “Axe Murder” Trial
by Joan Axelrod-Contrada

3.0 out of 5 stars Runs the Gamut from “A-C”., Aug 26 2000

The Lizzie Borden “Axe Murder” Trial – A Headline Court Case, by Joan Axelrod-Contrada, Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2000, 106 pages, is a short, one session read. Have a snack nearby because you won’t get much of a bite out of this one.This is one of a series of famous court cases designed for the (I assume) Junior High or High School student studying famous cases. It’s just enough to provide a fairly good overview of the basics of the case, sufficient enough to write a school report – simple essays, but certainly no term paper. Joan A-C manages to convey all the primary and essential aspects of the case presented in a crisp, concise order. In almost bullet-like paragraphs it covers the Inquest, Preliminary, Grand Jury, and Trial. Those four proceedings probably account for this particular case being a good one for a class study. It ends with very brief comparisons of the OJ Simpson case and Louise Woodard cases (yawn). However, handled well, I thought, given the consistent brevity throughout, was the information on the investigation into insanity and the question of what dress did Lizzie have on between 9:00 and 11:00 that morning.

The end notes indicate more research than probably was necessary considering the resultant shallow substance. The author extracted information from many websites on the subject, and for the first time in a new book on Lizzie, the Chapter Notes/Biblography citations have a generous sprinkling of the “.org” and “.html” references. “Bordenia” websurfers will recognize many of them and may even be surprised, as I was, for a couple of new and very interesting sites.

The book has a handsome cover but, alas, the many photographs are all those that we’ve seen dozens of times in dozens of books. The picture of Lizzie taken in 1905,when she was 44-45 and with pinch-nez glasses, is probably the least reproduced of the lot.

I’m always appreciative of anything new published on the case, even if the content is a regurgitation in synopsized format. For me, the striking disappointment is that it is so obviously “series-formulated” that it lacks any incentive or motivation to compel the uninformed reader to seek out other works on this extremely compelling and facinating case. While I give credit and due respect to Joan Axelrod-Contrada for achieving what was obviously the publishers intent with this series, as a book of substance, it ran the gamut from “A to C”. (Forgive me Dorothy Parker).


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