See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.”

That eerie rhyme is something most kids learn in middle school when they first hear about Lizzie Borden. I picked it up on the playground as part of a jump-rope rhyme and the murderous story of Lizzie Borden has stuck with me ever since. I find myself reading and watching anything to do with Lizzie Borden in an effort to learn more about what happened the fateful day of August 4, 1892 when Andrew and Abby Borden were both axe-murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Who did it? No one will ever know, but everyone has their theories.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is the most recent telling that I found. It was so engaging that I finished this book over a long weekend, something that I haven’t done in a couple years. This novel was surprisingly close to the truth with the author taking a few creative licenses. Schmidt takes the infamous true story of Lizzie Borden and adds some fictional material that fills in holes in Lizzie’s story as well as some fictional background information that is missing in the historical overview. All in all, Schmidt creates a remarkably believable account of what happened that steamy August morning when Andrew and Abby were murdered.

This novel shifts between four main characters’ points of view: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and a stranger named Benjamin. Seeing each characters’ viewpoint of events leading up to the murders, the day of the murders, and after the murders allows readers to gain a multi-layered view of what really happened. The morning of August 4, 1892 began like any other morning in the Borden household: Mr. Borden, aka Andrew, went off to work, while Lizzie, Mrs. Abby Borden, and Bridget worked on tasks around the house. There had been a sickness around the house the last few days which led Abby to believe that she and the others were being poisoned. Lizzie was fine however. Emma, Lizzie’s sister, was out of town visiting a friend. Both sisters were unmarried and lived with their father and step-mother despite their parents’ repeated attempts to marry them off.

The brutal axe-murder of both Andrew and Abby left the community wondering why anyone would want to murder such well-respected members of Fall River. Life inside the Borden household was not a pleasant experience though. Both Lizzie and Emma struggled to break free of their father and gain independence, but found that they were bound together in the most intimate of ways. Emma, Lizzie, Bridget, and the mysterious Benjamin all add overlapping perspectives to the moments leading up to the discovery of the bodies, perspectives that will jar readers and have them wondering what ghosts each person has living in their pasts and how those ghosts influence their current actions.

What I liked about this book is readers can really see Lizzie progress to become the person that she was when her father and step-mother died. The true motive for why she started disliking her step-mother after loving her for so many years will never be known and Schmidt leaves that gap for the reader to try to solve. Something clearly happened to Lizzie that caused that great shift in temperament and demeanor. It was puzzling. I also enjoyed the multiple points of view present in this book because it allowed me to see the multiple layers that go into making a person and how one’s actions can mean different things to different people.

I really enjoyed this book and think that it made a positive addition to the many Lizzie Borden books that I have already read. If you don’t know the true story of Lizzie Borden and her family, I encourage you to look it up in order to learn everything that is known about the family and how Schmidt’s reimagining lines up with the facts. She is fairly accurate and presents plausible explanations for both the holes in Lizzie’s story and the empty background information in most historic accounts.


This book is also available in large print.

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