2015: 8. Alice and Freda Forever

"When I first learned about the 1892 murder of seventeen-year-old Freda Ward by her ex-fiance, nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell, I was riding a New York City subway on my long commute from graduate school."

Alice + Freda Forever, Alexis Coe

Another book that had its genesis at The Toast, this story first saw light as an article on the site.  Unlike Texts From Jane Eyre, however, the book is totally expanded and new - and having read the one will in no way detract from your enjoyment of the other. 

It's a true story of an 1892 murder - a young girl, Alice Mitchell, sliced open the throat of another young girl, Freda Ward.  What made the story salacious was that it was done out of jealous love - Alice had been engaged to Freda, and then Freda rejected her.  What's that you say? Two women engaged in 1892?? Exactly.  The story is an unusual look at a lesbian couple at at time when such things were usually very very hidden.  Here, the fact that Alice killed Freda out of "love" (for I can't call an emotion which leads you to bruatally murder someone true love), was so shocking that, in the end, it saved Alice's life.  People couldn't believe she was anything but crazy, and instead of the death penalty, she was sent to an asylum, where she died soon after.

It's a hell of a story - and Coe tells it well.  The book isn't a traditional true crime story - Coe takes some liberties with form, including illustrations and such, giving it at times the feel of a chapbook or something.  I didn't that part was necessary - the story stands on its own, and Coe is very aware of all the angles to cover - contemporary attitudes on lesbianism, modern attitudes on the same, general salaciousness of true crime.  Coe analyzes the story from all angles, and the end result is very satisfying.  

If I have one quibble, it's that I think Coe goes a little easy on Alice.  Excited to find a lesbian relationship in that time period, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Alice was a murderer.  I mean, yes, it is unfortunate that the very notion of women in love meant that you were crazy, but on the other hand, Alice was pretty damn crazy - both to think she'd get away with marrying Freda, and to then turn and kill her.  Regardless, the book is super interesting - I recommend it highly.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017