|Check out the adverb "frightfully."|
Why did so many newspapers support Lizzie while one of her hometown newspapers did not?
Despite what Lizzie supporters--and Bill James--may try to tell you, there was a decent case against Lizzie for the murders. Conforti does not tackle Lizzie's guilt or innocence; he is more interested in context. His objective relation of events consequently carries more weight than popular books which attempt to solve the case. As a subjective reader of popular texts, I have long considered Lizzie guilty of the murders (although I would agree that proving her guilt absolutely is somewhat problematic; where's Gil Grissom when you need him?).
I could be wrong. My point is that Americans love a good murder mystery and they love crazy killers! So why was Lizzie defended by newspapers like The New York Times? Nowadays, the pundits would be climbing all over each other to speculate as to Lizzie's extreme innocence AND extreme guilt (see JonBenet Ramsey case). Why were the newspapers outside of Fall River so consistent in their defense of a middle-class, Protestant, Yankee, Victorian lady?
According to Conforti, I've answered my own question. Lizzie's class and gender--the perception of how a middle-class, Protestant, Yankee, Victorian lady was supposed to behave--largely protected her with the jury. After all, if a middle-class, Protestant, Yankee, Victorian lady could go off the rails and murder the head of a household (alongside his second wife), who amongst the owners of American's newspapers would be safe!?
The local newspaper was operated and written by non-Yankees, the Irish, who had a political investment in gaining precedence over their Yankee neighbors. And had no very high opinion of said neighbors who controlled (though that control was fading) the city's major industries.
Why wasn't Bridget Sullivan, the maid, accused of the murders?
Yet Lizzie never accused Bridget. In fact, it is evident that Lizzie told exactly as much truth as she needed to and no more: her class and gender, she believed, would protect her (Lizzie was right).
Despite Lizzie's silence regarding Bridget, I have always pondered why she didn't come under more suspicion, not because I believe her guilty (I don't) but because she was Irish, a member of the lower working class, an immigrant of ambiguous status. The Irish got blamed for so much. Why not this?
Turns out, Fall River had immigrants of even lower status than the Irish. The first scapegoats weren't the Irish but the Portuguese. Bridget herself initially blamed a Portuguese worker for the murders.
And the case was investigated by Irish cops.
As mentioned above, Joseph Conforti is not concerned with innocence or guilt as much as with the social underpinnings of the event. He recommends the following article by Cara W. Robertson, "Representing Miss Lizzie: Cultural Convictions in the Trial of Lizzie Borden." I double that recommendation. It is fascinating.
|I refer to this ballet, Fall River Legend in a paper|
|that I wrote for the ANES program.|
|Yes, there really is a ballet about Lizzie.|
Speaking as someone who IS concerned with Lizzie Borden's guilt or innocence, after reading Conforti's objective analysis, I am impressed--all over again--by my entirely subjective feeling that the police and the establishment would not have proceeded at all if Fall River had not felt very, very strongly that Lizzie was in fact, to borrow a non-academic term, super-guilty.
Of course, because people feel strongly does not mean they should find a member of their society guilty (and Lizzie was acquitted). But Lizzie being brought to trial supports what Victoria Lincoln argues: Fall River believed Lizzie was guilty across class lines; the establishment knew more than it said yet closed ranks around Lizzie; the Borden family situation was such that no one was really all that surprised by the possibility of Lizzie as a murderess--despite what was proclaimed out loud.
FYI: Joseph Conforti was one of my professors in the American & New England Studies program at USM although my paper on Lizzie Borden was written for a different professor, Professor Ryden. Professor Conforti was my advisor on my thesis. One of the best writing/research courses I took as a college student (B.A. and M.A.) I took from him.