Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Sarah Schmidt’s debut See What I Have Done begins on August 4th in 1892 at Fall River, Massachusetts, soon after the body of Andrew Borden, a wealthy manufacturer/ entrepreneur is discovered by Lizzie Borden, his daughter. Lizzie acts frantically after the discovery with emotions running wild, but given that the girl had just seen her father’s butchered body she doesn’t garner suspicion until a second body belonging to Abby, her stepmother is found in the house. With no other outstanding suspects in this dysfunctional family, Lizzie faces trial for the murders in 1893, however, even after the jury acquits Lizzie the public interest in her and these gruesome murders do not die out. To date, this unsolved crime remains a subject for speculation and an inspiration for many novels with most writers pointing to Lizzie as the prime suspect, and Sarah Schmidt throws her hat into the ring with See What I Have Done, her retelling of Borden axe murders.
What I admired most about See What I Have Done is Schmidt’s portrayal of Lizzie which proved to be a fascinating character study. Lizzie is an unsettling character, who I’m inclined to believe suffered from deep-rooted psychological issues. Lizzie’s relationships with the Borden family members were intense. After her birth-mother’s death Lizzie became attached to Emma, her elder sister but even that relationship was disturbing, overshadowed by Lizzie’s petty rivalries and manipulations. Being daddy’s girl Lizzy was also jealous of the attention Andrew paid on Abby, so in a way, I feel the way it all ended was inevitable. But that is not to say Andrew and Abby didn’t have flawed personalities – the two of them were also twisted, although as not as Lizzie.
With See What I Have Done Schmidt brings one of the grisliest and bloodiest murders in the 19th century which was (possibly) committed by a woman to the forefront. Schmidt’s story is not for the fainthearted, but I can certainly recommend See What I Have Done to those who enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.