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Women and the World of Dime Novels

Annie Saunders

Example of:
The ruined woman

Featured in:
The Midnight Lamp; or, Life in the Empire City

 The midnight lamp; or, Life in the Empire City

Annie Saunders is working as a waitress in a disreputable saloon in New York. She and her brother had once been well-to-do, but when they lost their money, her brother abandoned her. Unbeknownst to Annie, her brother is now in jail for supposedly murdering his fiancée and then setting her apartment on fire to hide the evidence. Feeling guilty for how he abandoned Annie, he sits in prison and worries aloud about her fate.

"She may be dead, or worse—I shudder to think of it—proud as she was, she may, in her hour of trial, failed and fallen as woman falls never to rise again. God of heaven spare her from that. Better death than such dishonor." (53)

Annie has succumbed to exactly the fate her brother fears. In the course of her work, she met Martin Haley, who seduced her. Annie does not know that Martin has recently swindled a businessperson in Boston and run away with the man's wife, who is currently in a New York hotel. A detective seeks out Annie at the saloon in an attempt to find Martin. Martin is arrested in front of Annie, and she begins to suspect that he has led her on. When she returns to her home, a dagger engraved with the words "Death before dishonor" reminds her of her brother's advice against premarital sex, which she ponders aloud.

"Was it dishonor to listen to the sweet words of the only man, who ever loved me for myself—to yield myself madly to the burning love which welled up from his warm heart? No—no—it would have been death to me, to refuse such love." (67-68)

In the meantime, the detective has laid a trap for both Martin and his two lovers. He invites each woman separately to the trial, and puts them in a room together, without revealing that they are there for the same purpose. When the women hear Martin's name in the course of the trial, they both sprint into the court room and are confronted with his infamous behavior toward of them. Annie is the first to act.

"Martin Haley, you have cruelly deceived me. You have blighted me, even in my spring-time. But I forgive you—I forgive you, for I have loved you! You shall not linger out your life in a prison cell. The law shall not glory over another victim. You are mine—mine Martin Haley, and by this act, I bind you to me forever!" (87)

Annie pulls out her dagger, stabs Martin, and before anyone has a chance to react, she stabs herself. Both die within seconds. But the tragedy of Annie's downfall is not over. Her brother is lead into the court room. He asks what villain has killed his sister. He is told that she first killed the man who seduced her, then herself. Annie's brother lauds her behavior.

"She died as a Roman sister would have died. And I, persecuted and friendless, but innocent, mark you all, innocent of all crimes but poverty and pride, will profit by her example!" (88)

Annie’s brother, who has already pulled the dagger from his sister’s dead body, stabs himself with it. The novel ends with three dead bodies in the court room, and Martin Haley’s second lover being led away, driven mad by the implications of her actions and the sight of Martin’s dead body.