Philadelphia: Barclay & Co., . Early edition. Original pictorial salmon wrappers. Measuring 230 x 140mm and collating complete: , 19-77. Illustrated throughout. A very nearly Fine copy with spine and wrappers intact; several small chips along edges of front wrap and light glue smudge to lower rear wrap. Internally fresh and unmarked. One of several scarce works printed between 1878 and 1887 sensationalizing the violent attack and murder of Philadelphia sex worker Helen Jewett, and the ensuing trial that found her attacker not guilty. OCLC lists 8 copies of the 1878 first edition and 2 copies of the present 1882 edition; other early editions are similarly scarce, with 3 surviving copies being the average. The present is the only copy in trade for any of the editions.
A first-generation American born to Welsh parents, Dorcas Doyen was subject to her father's alcoholism and rage until the age of eleven, when she was placed with a guardian. Jilted by a wealthy man with whom she had wanted a future and embroiled in scandal as a result, she fled to New York and reinvented herself. Under this new name Helen Jewett, she took work at the fashionable Mrs. Berry's on Duane St. and then later at Mrs. Townsend's on Thomas St. in lower Manhattan. It was here that one of her patrons, Richard Robinson, developed a jealous obsession with her, ultimately brutally murdering her in bed and seeking to conceal the crime by setting the scene on fire. Robinson, a Connecticut man of privilege, would be found not guilty by a jury, despite a wealth of evidence against him. Repeatedly, Jewett's career in the sex trade was used to belittle and besmirch her, throwing doubt on her human value and questioning whether she deserved justice.
While the present depiction of Jewett's life and death contain humanizing qualities -- including a biography of her early family life, her struggle with depression, and the chronic domestic abuse she experienced -- it also participates in profiting off her sexualization and objectification. As a hungry readership consumed accounts of the trial in The New York Herald and a variety of other salacious publications, Jewett was sold without her awareness or consent, her murder presented less as a tragedy than a titillating and pornographic tableau. Publications surrounding the trial would shape views of sex workers long after it ended, stigmatizing and dehumanizing women and queer people who were turning to the trade to gain "a modicum of economic and social independence they could not have otherwise" (Capitalism by Gaslight). (Item #4999)