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Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis Hardcover – October 7, 2014
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From School Library Journal
*Starred Review* "This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism." - School Library Journal
"The murder was a national sensation at the time, but is little known today. ....Alexis Coe retells it here with the color and liveliness of a novel. Her account is accompanied by illustrations of the people, scenes, and artifacts that populate this story of forbidden love." - Andrea DenHoed, The New Yorker
"This is an astonishing look at love as tsunami, the wild violence of passion, and a young woman undone by her own heart." - Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle
"The story of a Gilded Age-era homicide that stunned a nation with its sheer violence and tabooed origins. Haunted for years about the case, media columnist and historian Coe chronicles a 19th-century, Memphis, Tennessee-based ordeal of coldblooded murder and the jilted lesbian love that inspired it. … A historically resonant reminder of how far societal tolerance has come and that it still remains a work in progress." - Kirkus Reviews
“[A] lively, provocative history….a well-written effort that makes the most of its source material on two levels, both as true crime and as social commentary” - Publishers Weekly
"This thoroughly researched exposé considers a murder that took place in Victorian-era Memphis. …This selection might attract fans of true crime, such as Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City (2003), although the content concentrates more on the historical setting than intrigue or suspense. This could also serve as a gritty rebuttal to idealized period romances extolling the virtues of demure and genteel femininity." - Booklist
"VERDICT: Highly recommended as an insightful exploration of an important historical true crime and a solid introduction to narrative nonfiction." - Library Journal
"Alice + Freda Forever is the vital combination of a sensational story and a remarkable treasure of historical research featuring lesbian lust, laudanum, and laceration....Coe has given us a bloody, interesting chapter in America’s hidden history of “pathological love." - Preston Lauterbach. Oxford American
"Alexis Coe’s intricately researched, nonfiction Alice + Freda Foreverdepicts the destructive power of love. …Reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures (which in turn was based on actual events), an account of two teenagers who are compelled to murder to protect their intense, almost incestuous friendship, Alice + Freda Forever will not only attract teens and adults alike for its gripping treatment of love gone dreadfully wrong—it will force them to think critically from both a historical and sociocultural perspective."- School Library Journal, Curriculum Connections
"Coe’s narrative covers the perceptions of sexuality, women’s role in society, racial hierarchy, media manipulation, and even mental health, but she never strays too far from the heart of the story: the tragic romance between two women forty years before the word lesbian would be in circulation" - Justin Alvarez, The Paris Review
*A Must-Read Book for the Fall* "A case of a teenage murderess and a forbidden love? This real life tale by historian and columnist for The Toast has it all. Based on rich research, including the love letters between Alice and Freda, their relationship was going to break boundaries, until it ended in tragedy. Gripping and fascinating." - Flavorwire
"Alexis Coe's historical nonfiction Alice + Freda Forever tells the real — and tragic — story of 19-year-old murderess Alice Mitchell, who in 1892 killed the young woman she was engaged to when they were forced apart after their relationship was discovered. The book includes 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate domestic scenes." - Popsugar, Books We're Dying to Read
"With Alice and Freda Forever, Alexis Coe takes this fascinating true tale and brings it to literary life through love letters, newspaper articles, courtroom testimonies, maps, and school catalogs — all culled into one vivid narrative. With shimmering prose, careful research, and eloquent analysis, Coe weaves an absorbing tale of crime and passion, violence and discrimination, gender and femininity, lust and the all-consuming power of love — a tale that gives these teenage lovers a voice to echo above the clamor of a scandal." - Bustle
"Alice and Freda's tragic story gives a fascinating glimpse of 19th Century America's attempts to comprehend passion it has no language to acknowledge. Hauntingly enhanced by Sally Klann's illustrations, Alexis Coe's skillful research and documentation never distract from her heartbreaking narrative." - Elizabeth Wein, New York Times bestselling author of Code Name Verity
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From the Manufacturer
A conversation with Alexis Coe
Alexis "sheds light on one of the most lurid murder trials of the late 19th century, in this lively provocative history” (Publishers Weekly). Find out about what inspired her to write about this tragic love story.
Alexis, how did you become interested in this murder from more than 120 years ago?
When I first learned about the 1892 murder of seventeen-year-old Freda Ward by her ex-fiancé, nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell, I was riding a New York City subway on my long commute home. I remember it well because I was so engrossed in the act of imagining their lives; I missed my stop—and then three more. I’d been reading a scholarly article about the case, but I kept losing Alice and Freda in the academic talk. And so I closed my eyes and tried to hear their voices through the dense text, to visualize their story.
The case is heartbreaking—and I’m not necessarily talking about a murder, though obviously that was an unconscionable act. It seemed to me that Alice had been treated rather cruelly by those around her; this began in her family home, and her reality never changed. Her ultimate demise was certainly unfortunate. Of course, Freda was the victim, but there were grave injustices dealt to both these relatively powerless young women.
A main concern in the murder trial was Alice's sanity. Did same-sex love equal insanity in this era?
This is an interesting point—Alice wasn’t tried for murder. She was instead subject to an 'inquisition of lunacy,' which looked an awful lot like a trial, with a judge (one of the founders of the Tennessee KKK) and a jury made up of “the finest men in Memphis,” meaning they were all male, all white and, and of varying privilege.
On the very night Alice had slashed a seventeen-year-old woman’s throat, her own father convinced two formidable lawyers that his daughter could not be tried for murder. There was no denying that she had killed Freda—Alice had already confessed, and there were plenty of witnesses—but in 1892, her motive was utterly inconceivable to them. Alice’s insistence that she killed Freda because she loved her and could not stand the idea of anyone else having her, and that the young women had planned to marry, seemed nothing short of insane. And they could call upon ample witnesses to support this claim.
And therein lay the brilliance of the present insanity plea: It explained what appeared to be inexplicable, and recast a murderess as the sympathetic victim of her own illness.
Why were you, as a narrative history writer, passionate about including more than 100 illustrations?
I was intrigued by the physical evidence that the articles I read mentioned: love letters, a bottle of poison, a father’s razor. I began to think about them in terms of public engagement. When I started I was working as a research curator in the exhibitions department of the New York Public Library, where I was tasked with mining special collections for items to put on exhibition. I began to picture different ways of sharing their story. I longed to tell it on the page accompanied by the kind of stirring visuals an exhibition case offered. I imagined a book that was both written and curated.
Is there a long-lasting legacy to this murder in Memphis?
Memphis has a rich history, and much of it is quite dark. Slavery. Yellow Fever. The assassination of Martin Luther King. Alice and Freda are not a prominent part of the city’s history. Many people I met, even those working in libraries and schools, had not heard of them, which does suggest that the majority of Memphians are unlikely to have heard of them. There are local efforts to change that, and I hope that Alice + Freda Forever will further that cause. Both young women are buried at Elmwood Cemetery, and locals and tourists alike stop at their grave and plot, respectively, on well-attended tours. Alice and Freda’s names—once well known across America—are now recognized by only a small group of people, and yet, their tragic story will feel familiar.
Top Customer Reviews
In 1892 shortly before Freda was scheduled to leave Memphis Alice slashed her former lover's throat with a razor she had stolen for that purpose from her father months ago. Freda died soon after. Apparently Alice had meant to kill herself shortly after that act but was stopped by the people around her. A well publicized trial occurred soon after and eventually Alice was declared insane and sentenced to an asylum where she died just a few years later at the age of twenty-five.
I have an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book that is illustrated with black and white drawings but apparently forty additional illustrations are included in the published copies. While the background to Alice and Freda's affair and the murder and ensuing trial are interesting the book is most valuable because of the information it details about attitudes toward sexuality, the role of women and even race relations during the 1890's. Transcripts of several letters sent between Alice and Freda are included as are some correspondence from other players in the case, there is an extensive bibliography and seventeen pages of research notes.
Alice had proposed marriage to Freda, and planned to dress as a man and support Freda as a husband would. The dramatic story of their love and courtship forms the first part of this novel. In this section there are a number of letters reproduced in handwriting, which I found slow reading. Otherwise the story was well paced.
I found the legal proceedings to be the most compelling part of the novel. The characters are fascinating – the bombastic judge who turned his court into a media circus, Alice's father who had a penchant for putting the women of his family into asylums, the medical experts who so learnedly diagnosed Alice's mental state, the chivalrous jury of all white males who were not at all disposed to condemn a young white woman of good family to death, the attorney general who was set on hanging the teenaged murderess for her “unnatural crime”...
This book would be ideal for a class in women's studies or gender studies. It's carefully researched and offers a biting analysis of a totally male-dominated time and place. At the same time Alice & Freda Forever reads like a novel, and can be enjoyed simply as a tragic love story.
Alice + Freda Forever promised to hit all of the buttons of my literary interests: young love, LGBT themes, history, and murder. This book definitely delivered, and made for a book that I couldn't put down.
The great thing about this book is that it seems to be really, really well researched. I'll be the first one to admit to you that I had never even heard of this murder until I came across this book. Coe includes historical settings, background information, family information, and even hand-written letters in this book, making it feel authentic and accurate. It's clear that history and representation was the forefront of this book, and I think that's great. I learned a lot, without it being so preachy that it seems like a text book. Coe managed to make fact read like gripping fiction, and it really worked for me.
I also really liked that this book was full of illustrations. It was a nice touch and helped me more easily visualize what was going on. Plus, if you take off the sleeve on the hardcover edition, there's an illustration embossed on the book itself. I think that was a really pretty, nice detail that I wouldn't have thought about.
And then of course, there's the story itself. It's fascinating. It's disturbing and creepy and morbid but you can't help but to keep reading, and even sympathizing with the characters in this book. I started out thinking "who could possibly commit such a crime against the one they love?" but the more I kept reading into their personal stories, the more I started to get it. That's another part of what makes this tale so disturbing, it seems so... Normal. Relatable almost, as strange as that is to say about a murder.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found this book to be somewhat boring with all of the psychiatric explanations. It did hold my interest but wasn't,t a book I couldn't stop reading.Published 1 month ago by .
I tried to read it on my kindle. There were many handwritten letters in very tiny script. Changing the font on the kindle did not enlarge the letters so I was unable to read them... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Christie White
The author did a good job of recounting those facts that she had but I feel like she put too much emphasis on the prejudices of the time and poor treatment of women. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
This book is very overpriced. $10 for a 229-page book, and then the end notes and references start 60% of the way through the book, so it's really well short of even 200 pages! Read morePublished 3 months ago by Emily
and cant, just as the sources are by theirs. Mostly clearly narrated, but the story, qua story, seems rather flat, despite the inherent pathos of the circumstances. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Daniel P. Collins
Amazing book! Incredibly quick read. Very easy to understand. Wonderful layout and amazing illustrations. Definitely recommend!!Published 8 months ago by Michelle K. Guile
Interesting how the morals and customs have changed since this murder in Memphis. These young ladies were almost crippled by the customs but they did not seem to realize it. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jacqueline Davidson
This is a true story re-written and I'm assuming dramatized for literary effect. A dark and strange albeit twisted lesbian love story.Published 11 months ago by d