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Eugenia by Mark Tedeschi


by Mark Tedeschi

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Eugenia by Mark Tedeschi



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Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. And never has this been more apparent than in the case of Eugenia Falleni. Her story is a true one, about a woman that lived as a man at the turn of the twentieth century in Australia. Gender Identity Disorder was not widely acknowledged, even though the tale does share a few things in common with a film set in a similar time, Albert Nobbs. Falleni was charged with the murder of her first wife, Annie Birkett (one of two spouses that Falleni would trick into believing she was a man).

Eugenia is written by Mark Tedeschi, an eminent senior crown prosecutor and barrister who has also acted as a defence lawyer during his 35 years in practice. This is his debut, true crime novel, with his previous written works including a book about international business law and articles on various kinds of law plus history and genealogy. This depth of experience and passion for this extraordinarily bizarre case translate into a very accessible and intriguing read.

The book is in part a creative non-fiction because the author has had to speculate about some of the events that transpired (because only Falleni as Harry Crawford and her wife Annie will ever know what truly happened). Tedeschi gives a detailed account of Falleni’s life. She was born in Livorno, Italy in 1875 and her formative years were spent in New Zealand after her parents decided to immigrate. It was here that she first harboured tomboy tendencies and these culminated in her working as a stable-hand, bricklayer and other hard, labouring jobs. Falleni was also illiterate but she was strong and relished this intense, manual work.

Falleni would be married off by her parents to a cruel Italian man when she was 19 and when this didn’t work out, she would seek employment on a ship. She worked undetected as a man for some time but would make a fatal error one day and inadvertently reveal her gender. Once the captain confirmed her true sex she was brutally raped and fell pregnant. She would subsequently be abandoned in Sydney and give birth to a daughter.

In time she would rebuild her life and become Harry Crawford and marry Annie Birkett. They had a relatively happy marriage for a few years but in 1817 a series of unfortunate and mysterious events occurred. This resulted in Birkett’s burnt body being discovered in Sydney’s Lane Cove River Park. Tedeschi follows the police investigation, arrest and the contentious Supreme Court trial in 1920 in detail.

Tedeschi has been able to draw upon contemporary public records, court transcripts, press reports, other written accounts and the recollections of people who had a degree of contact with the main characters. These all assist in constructing a detailed portrait of the complex woman who thought she was a man. Tedeschi’s strength is that he is able to detail the case in great depth and in a way that is easy for the common reader to understand. There are a number of legal, political and social issues highlighted by this case, which ultimately resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

Falleni was subject to a trial by media and was portrayed as a fiendish human monster, a sexual pervert, liar, hypocrite, murderess and a filthy-tongued man-woman. The defence lawyer supplied by legal aid was no match for the experienced crown prosecutor, with the former making a number of very crucial errors in his work with the case. Evidence that shouldn’t have been admissible was allowed, the testimony of witnesses who had already seen her photograph in the newspaper was included plus the defence failed to adequately cross-examine, provide evidence from expert witnesses and ultimately draw attention to the fact that the prosecution had failed to prove certain things beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tedeschi also does a good job in describing the environment at the time including the history and social mores. Falleni’s case is described in comparison to another alleged female murderer and there is a stark difference in their treatment. Dorothy Mort was a society woman with Anglo-Saxon heritage and her well-to-do family managed to buy her a non-guilty charge on the grounds of insanity, while Falleni was charged to the full extent of the law. The latter woman’s case was no doubt peppered by her “social misfit” status, her heritage and illiteracy.

Eugenia has been meticulously researched and is a grim tragedy about a poor woman who was at odds with the social expectations of her time. Tedeschi does an excellent job of humanising and sympathising with her, treating the matter with the respect, dignity and sensitivity that was obviously missing from the period’s sensational reportage. This means the story is ultimately recounted for what it was and proves an insightful tale about crime, courage and rising above adversity. It is also a revealing portrait of the inner workings of our court system and ultimately, one complex mind. By applying a deft hand, Tedeschi reveals both sides of the coin and makes this true crime book seem like a successful biography, history and law textbook all rolled into one.

Originally published on 11 July 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/reading-with-the-au-mark-tedeschi-eugenia-2013

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/ ( )
  natsalvo | Feb 25, 2015 |
This is the true story of Eugenia Falleni, an Italian born, New Zealand raised woman who dressed and identified as a man and who landed in Australia in the early 20th century, called herself Harry Crawford, married twice (both times to women who did not know she was biologically female) and who was arrested and charged with the murder of her first wife. The book is written by an Australian QC and follows the legal case against Eugenia and examines whether a miscarriage of justice occurred as a result of the hype over Eugenia's gender - the press labelled her the man-woman and made her out to be a monster. #EugeniaFalleni #MarkTedeschi ( )
  PennyAnne | Dec 5, 2014 |
Born a female in New Zealand in 1875, Eugenia Falleni decided to live her life as a man, dressing as a man and going by the name Eugene. In 1898, Eugenia moved to Newcastle and began her life here in Australia as a male.

Living under several different names, Eugenia successfully married twice and lived every aspect of her life as a man, including conducting intimate relationships with women who had no idea of her true sexuality.

In Sydney in 1920, Eugenia's life took a turn for the worse when she was charged with murdering her first wife, Annie Birkett.

Author Mark Tedeschi, AM QC uses his extensive legal experience to take the reader through Eugenia's life, including upbringing, move to Australia, work, love life and the murder trial.

Reading about Eugenia Falleni's life was fascinating but to learn the extent she had to go to in order to keep her sexuality a secret was just heartbreaking. When her secret was revealed she suffered harsh judgements from the public and the press was terribly cruel, calling her the man-woman.

Records from the day are referred to including: court transcripts, media articles, police reports and public records.

What I liked least about Eugenia were the brief introductory paragraphs at the beginning of significant chapters. Historical details were provided in these paragraphs to 'set the scene' for the reader and provide an overview of what else was taking place in the world at the time. This was completely unnecessary and a minor interruption to the flow of Eugenia's story.

What I liked most about Eugenia was the detailed follow up at the end of the book. Various locations in Sydney had been referred to in the book including residences, places of work and public spaces and at the end Tedeschi provides an update on each of the locations and their status today. He also provides extensive updates on the major figures in Eugenia's life (of which I was less interested) but this follow up was extremely satisfying and incredibly interesting.

In conclusion, Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC is an incredible and engrossing read with plenty of life lessons to learn along the way, and I highly recommend it.

* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room Advanced Reading Copies & Giveaways Program * ( )
  Carpe_Librum | May 13, 2014 |
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This is the true crime account of Eugenia Falleni, a woman who in 1920 was charged with the murder of her wife. Eugenia had lived in Australia for twenty-two years as a man and during that time officially married twice. She lived a full married life with her first wife, Annie, for four years before Annie realised that her husband was a woman. Even after Annie knew, they lived together for eight months before they went on a bush picnic, when Annie mysteriously died. Her body was not identified for almost three years, and during this time Eugenia married again, this time to Lizzie.… (more)

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