The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West

Carole Haber, Author
Carole Haber. Univ. of North Carolina, $39.95 (328p) ISBN 978-1-4696-0758-0
Reviewed on: 10/28/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
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On November 3, 1870, 33 year-old Laura Fair waited anxiously aboard a San Francisco ferry for her 54 year-old lover, Alexander Parker Crittenden, to board. Despondent over Crittenden's failure to leave his wife and marry her, Fair lurked on the ferry in order to witness her lover's meeting with his wife, Clara. Witnessing Crittenden's affection for his wife, she shot and fatally wounded him. Four months later, one of the most sensational 19th century murder trials began, placing not only Fair on trial, but notions of gender, society, and insanity. In her mesmerizing chronicle, Tulane historian Haber recreates the events leading up to Fair's trials through to the aftermath. While an all-male jury convicted Fair of murder, her case drew the attention of women's rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well as a somewhat sympathetic press. Upon appeal, a new jury overturned the original verdict, convinced by connections between insanity and women's biological cycles. Haber's captivating social history opens a window into Victorian America's thinking about issues related to gender, women's reputations, law, and religion. (Aug.)
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