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The Most Famous Bigamist (yet the least prosecuted): The Double-Lifer

From the BBC series Mrs Wilson

Who has not heard of the truck driver, the airline pilot or the traveling salesman leading a double life? A dashing man juggling a wife in one town and another "legal" family in another city, or even sometimes on a different street in the same neighbourhood? It is only when the man suffers a heart attack or other illness that the families converge in a hospital room and discover one another’s existence. I will not name any particular series or TV programs because I do not want to give away the plot of some of your favorite shows. These stories, full of intrigues, make for great entertainment. Either in Canada or in Australia, the courts prosecuted very few men who led double-lives. Why?

Extremely intelligent

The lack of prosecution for bigamy of this kind stems probably from the fact that the double lifer, often a man expert in the art of deception, is only exposed when he dies. If for obvious reasons a woman can not pull the double-life scheme (pregnancies), men have had more opportunities to start a second family. Men have traditionally been more mobile, not only as heads of the family, but also as providers. No one questions their prolonged and frequent absences since their work takes them to different locales. One has to concede that to provide for two families, such men had to work hard, and be brilliant, if only to remember their web of lies. Some professions were better suited for such a life. In Mrs Wilson, a BBC TV series, the war and its reliance on espionage certainly contributed to the relative ease with which Mr Wilson achieved his deception.


The story of the double-lifer makes for interesting plot twists, often painting the bigamist in a positive light, highlighting his brilliance and/or devotion to his families. (Think about the chef in Rake, check out my last post to learn more). Perusing sites such as fightbigamy or other real life bigamy stories brings us back to thinking about the victims. If some of the plots in Mrs Wilson are harder to believe, the depiction of the harm done to the wives and children needs to receive praise. I highly recommend watching Mrs Wilson to understand what judges pointed to in more conventional bigamy cases. In their minds, the offense created real victims. In a coming post, we will explore who the court and society identified as victims. It might surprise you!

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Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Great comment from Willow too!


Merci for sharing, Mélanie. An instance of bigamy in the historical Canadian context that fascinates me is the practice of European fur traders who “married“ Indigenous women. As you probably know, these women were called “country wives“ and while many were in extortive situations, others created loving, complex kinship structures (though they were frowned upon by settler morality). Looking forward to reading more of your work as you complicate the history of marriage! Willow

Feb 03, 2022
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Interestingly, fur traders escaped bigamy charges because they did not formally married their "country wives". It meant that Indigenous women could not benefit from the few advantages a legal marriage would have provided. As you point out, the history of marriage can be complicated!

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