The Trials of Minnie Dean : a verse biography, Karen Zelas
It is rare, but not unknown to encounter a crime fiction novel in verse. Dorothy Porter's written some of the best examples of this that I've been fortunate enough to read, but I think this might be the first biography of a true crime figure in verse I've come across. Equally beautifully written and wonderfully laid out on the page, THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is fascinating reading.
Minnie Dean 1872
an open face one
could say dark hair
drawn back nothing to hide
a little lace at throat & cuff
hands rest loose on bentwood back
gaze into the camera eyes
soft & open brow deep
sole adornment in her hair
staining face or dress
Minnie Dean, as the blurb explains, was the first and only woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?
The story of Minnie is told in a combination of verses, images, handwritten snippets, all of which have had particular attention paid to their layout on the page. It's a feast for the eyes, although given this combination it's obviously not an indepth exploration of all that could ever be said about Minnie Dean, her background and her alleged crimes. There is, however, more than enough here for the reader to consider - from Minnie's background and reactions, statements and reactions of the police involved in the investigation and trial, even a short snippet from the hangman and her descendants.
All the way through though there is Minnie's voice and it's desperately sad, and sometimes quite chilling.
that inquest made me
a social outcast a
there is no law
to stop me taking babies
to my heart & home
I may take as many
as I want charge
whatever fees I wish
& keep them
in the manner of my choosing
so long I don't neglect or mistreat
that is all
let them try and stop me
Eventually, obviously, they did stop her in the most final of ways. Not having previously heard of Minnie Dean I was interested to find a Wikipedia entry and some historical facts about her, suspicions about her activities, and the final events that lead to her trial and execution.
THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is a beautifully constructed, extremely thought-provoking and moving book. It is one that I've now revisited many times since my initial reading.
Minnie Dean: the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer, or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?
Karen Zelas explores the trials of Minnie Dean using a myriad of voices, including Dean’s own, from her childhood in Scotland to the gallows in Invercargill, 1895.
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|Thursday, July 12, 2018|
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|Friday, March 2, 2018|