Rated 4 stars **** Pulp (Zest Books). 2014. 223 pp. Includes “Appendix,” “Bibliography,” “Notes,” and an “Index.”
In 1892 nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell, fine upstanding citizen of Memphis, Tennessee, committed an unfathomable crime against her seventeen-year-old ex-fiancée. In a fit of passion, she brutally slashed Freda Ward’s throat on a public street in front of witnesses.
Before the murder Alice had planned to impersonate a man so she and Freda could marry, move away, and live together as a couple. When their plan was discovered their families forbade them from any interaction, but Alice was obsessed. Freda seemed uninterested in restoring their relationship, appearing to be in love with several men, causing Alice to become extremely jealous and determined that no one could have Freda if she couldn’t be the one to marry her.
What made this crime so sensational was that lesbianism was not socially acceptable in 1892, and the social mores of the time dictated Alice would have had to be insane to entertain such impure thoughts towards another woman.
Using an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, Coe uses Alice and Freda’s love letters, newspaper accounts of the day, and other sources to walk readers through their disastrous love story. The events leading up to Freda’s murder, and Alice’s insanity trial are also thoroughly investigated.
Coe’s historical research allows readers to “see” the Memphis of 1892 including its civil rights violations, crooked politics, amazingly inaccurate medical theories and the ways in which Alice’s case was decided by the media rather than the courts. The turmoil faced by Alice and Freda for their love over 100 years ago will long resound with her readers.
Recommended for ages 18 and older.