The Double Suicide. The True History of the Lives of the Twin Sisters, Sarah and Maria Williams...
New York: H.H. Randall, 1855.
New York: H.H. Randall, 1855. First edition. Printed self wraps, stitched at spine. Measuring 220 x 140mm and complete in 64 pages. Some rubbing along spine, and scattered foxing to preliminary and terminal leaves; toned throughout, else clean. A scarce piece sensationalizing the tragic affairs and subsequent suicides of Sarah and Maria Williams, OCLC reports fewer than twenty copies with libraries, with this being the only example on the market.
We've been unable to determine whether the tragic story of the Williams twins is, in fact, historically true. What is clear whether the narrative is fiction or non-fiction, is that the damage caused to women and their lives as a result of their social positions and sex had a wide audience and attracted a variety of readers -- some who hoped to judge the parties involved, some who sought the experience of empathy and catharsis, some with prurient fantasies, and some who simply wanted a thrill. According to this story, Sarah and Maria Williams were firstborn daughters to a loving and prosperous middle-class New York family and that like any "perfect victims," they combined "sincerity, kindness, and judgement" with "the bloom of loveliness, grace, and innocence." Chaste and well behaved in their boarding-school days, their lives took a turn at twenty. During their father's extended absence on business, Maria began receiving visits from Mr. Knight, an insidious but well-recommended brother of an old schoolmate. Seduced by him into a fraudulent marriage, Maria is ultimately separated from her family and forced into sex work for his profit.
Rising eventually to "a high position among those of her kind...as a prostitute of superior grade," Maria operated on her own and refused to return to the Williams household despite Sarah's urgining; being degraded by her old neighbors and parents when she could be respected by her own was too much to bear. Sarah's insistence on maintaining a relationship with her twin and visiting her disreputable home led to her own reputation being cast into doubt. And when Sarah's intended eventually fell for, engaged in keeping, and ultimately got pregnant Maria, all participants in the affair ended their own lives.
In many ways, the sensationalized stories of these twins reveal how no woman is safe and how no woman can rely on her chastity to protect her socially. Though Maria and Sarah were identical and took opposite paths, their violent ends wind up being identical and equally scandalous. (Item #5437)