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Jack the Ripper and the London Press

Jack the Ripper and the London Press

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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    Jack the Ripper and the London Press
    Book Description:

    Press coverage of the 1888 mutilation murders attributed to Jack the Ripper was of necessity filled with gaps and silences, for the killer remained unknown and Victorian journalists had little experience reporting serial murders and sex crimes. This engrossing book examines how fourteen London newspapers-dailies and weeklies, highbrow and lowbrow-presented the Ripper news, in the process revealing much about the social, political, and sexual anxieties of late Victorian Britain and the role of journalists in reinforcing social norms.L. Perry Curtis surveys the mass newspaper culture of the era, delving into the nature of sensationalism and the conventions of domestic murder news. Analyzing the fourteen newspapers-two of which emanated from the East End, where the murders took place-he shows how journalists played on the fears of readers about law and order by dwelling on lethal violence rather than sex, offering gruesome details about knife injuries but often withholding some of the more intimate details of the pelvic mutilations. He also considers how the Ripper news affected public perceptions of social conditions in Whitechapel.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13369-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Since 1960, at least thirty books—not to mention scores of articles and chapters—have dealt with the exploits and identity of Jack the Ripper.¹ One of the fastest-growing light industries of the late-twentieth-century publishing world, what is known as “Ripperature” has attracted a worldwide audience, owing in part to exotic film and television variations on the theme ofwhodunem. Writers who relish playing the game of “hunt the Ripper” tend to thrive by the rule that even the flimsiest circumstantial evidence can serve to buttress a foregone conclusion. No matter how exhaustive the archival hunt and how personally gratifying...

  4. Chapter One The Whitechapel Murders: A CHRONICLE
    (pp. 19-31)

    Before delving into the Ripper reportage, we must first survey the actual events that comprised the basis of this baffling and still unfinished story. Fortunately, the abundance of accounts of the five known murders makes it unnecessary to repeat all the salient events here. Taken together, the narratives provided by such well-informed Ripperologists as Paul Begg, Martin Fido, Donald Rumbelow, Keith Skinner, and Philip Sugden contain most of the known facts as well as the theories and surmises about each slaying, even though disagreements persist. Sugden’s study of the murders has the advantage of correcting many of the errors and...

  5. Chapter Two Images and Realities of the East End
    (pp. 32-47)

    Contextualizing Ripper news requires immersion in not only Victorian newspapers and Ripperature but also empirical studies of the East End in the 1880s. But we should bear in mind that constructing any kind of historical context requires textualization, which is, of course, filled with all the inherent ambiguities of language and subjectivities of ideology. In other words, there is no clear boundary between the lived realities of East Enders and our historical reconstruction more than a century later of Whitechapel during the year of the Ripper, just as the boundaries of the East End itself remain ambiguous. To affluent West...

  6. Chapter Three The Theory and Practice of Victorian Journalism
    (pp. 48-64)

    In one of his more dogmatic moments, Thomas Macaulay declared that “the only true history of a country is to be found in its newspapers.”¹ If some contemporaries would have agreed with this obiter dictum, few informed readers would accept it today. Imbued with skepticism, we focus on the special interests and ideological leanings of the press corps and the moguls who dominate the mass media. Quite apart from questions of political bias, the now conventional belief of academicians in the inherent instability or slipperiness of language moves us to question the “real” reality of any event that has been...

  7. Chapter Four Sensation News
    (pp. 65-82)

    Before proceeding to analyze Victorian murder news, we must look first into the nature of crime news in general and the ways in which stories about deviance serve to reinforce the dominant values of society. In other words, there is more to murder news than descriptions of a dead body, suspects, motives, modes of detection, and the legal procedures attendant upon conviction or acquittal. Although most editors were (and remain) committed to selling more copies of their paper, they were also dedicated to supporting the forces of law and order and keen to remind readers of what happened to those...

  8. Chapter Five Victorian Murder News
    (pp. 83-108)

    What kinds of murder drew the attention of Fleet Street, and why did some cases receive bolder headlines and many more columns of print than others? Any answers to these questions must perforce remain provisional in the absence of firsthand testimony from the people who made those crucial decisions every day and night in editorial offices around London and the provinces. Even a cursory glance at the national press confirms Richard Altick’s observation that the Victorians treated murder news like a form of “popular entertainment, a spectator sport.”¹ However upset they might be by the actual event, readers seemed to...

  9. Chapter Six The First Two Murders
    (pp. 109-139)

    Our sample of Ripper news consists of stories from eight morning and evening national dailies, four Sunday papers, and two weeklies and one biweekly from the East End. In political sympathies the dailies ranged from Tory to Liberal and Radical. Three of them upheld Tory or Conservative principles—namely, theMorning Post, Globe,andEvening News. Unlike theStar,with its bellicose radicalism, the trendyPall Mall Gazetteflirted with a left-wing iconoclasm that appealed to some smart Tory readers. The Irish Home Rule crisis of 1886 had moved theDaily Telegraphto embrace Liberal Unionism, while theDaily Chronicle...

  10. Chapter Seven The Double Event
    (pp. 140-163)

    The crescendo of publicity given to the Whitechapel murders reached a peak during the first week of October, following the deaths of Stride and Eddowes before dawn on Sunday, September 30. News of the “double event,” as some papers took to calling the killings, spread fast and far. In Paris, the social-realist novelist George Gissing went out of his way to buy a copy of theStandardon October 2 so that he could learn about the latest murders, which had prompted one French newspaper to gloat ever so smugly that “the English have no decency left; they are ignoble...

  11. Chapter Eight The Pursuit of Angles
    (pp. 164-185)

    The relatively long hiatus in the Ripper’s activities from October 1 to November 9 meant that Fleet Street had to scratch hard for murder news, even though the Stride and Eddowes inquests dragged on for weeks. In their quest to keep the story alive by means of new angles and theories, reporters proved more than inventive, and they managed to fill some of the void with anecdotes, rumors, false reports, and conjectures. During the five-week interval before the final murder many papers raised the volume of law-and-order news. Whether praising or damning Warren, they expressed concern about public safety and...

  12. Chapter Nine The Kelly Reportage
    (pp. 186-212)

    The month-long lull in the Ripper’s lethal operations came to a horrifying halt before dawn on Friday, November 9, when the killer found both the privacy and the time needed to act out his rage against women to the fullest extent. The only one of Jack’s victims to be murdered indoors, the young Mary Jane Kelly died horribly inside the dingy room she rented in Miller’s Court, furnished with a cheap wooden bed, a small table, and a chair on which her clothes lay neatly folded. Kelly had not taken off her linen chemise, which is barely visible in the...

  13. Chapter Ten The Inquests: REPORTING THE FEMALE BODY
    (pp. 213-237)

    In newspaper parlance, the “body” of a story comprises everything after the opening sentences. As one reporter has observed, these bodies, “when properly written, flow smoothly and logically from their leads,” forming thereby “complete stories.”¹ In the case of the Ripper reportage, the stories were far from complete, and the core of many a “body” comprised the injuries done to the body of each victim. Often couched in clinical language, these images of violence belonged to the well-established tradition of prurient or sensation-horror journalism. In some respects, these descriptions resembled the subgenre of paintings depicting the nude corpses of women...

  14. Chapter Eleven Responses to Ripper News: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
    (pp. 238-252)

    In theory any mundane news story—say a bankruptcy case, a traffic accident, a mugging, or a stolen bicycle—should be able to catch and hold the interest of some readers, if only because they have a personal connection to the event in question. As Peter Dahlgren has argued, reports of even petty crime appeal to people who can relate to either the “thematic infrastructure” of the story or one of the principals—especially the victim.¹ Occasionally, a mundane crime story will strike a chord so deep or harmonic that the reader will fire off a letter to the editor,...

  15. Chapter Twelve The Cultural Politics of Ripper News
    (pp. 253-274)

    Steeped in the kind of mystery and sensation-horror that sold papers, and leaving all kinds of openings or gaps for the play of the imagination, Ripper news went well beyond alarming female readers about a maniac on the loose. Besides providing the public with unprecedented amounts of gore, these news stories also brought to the fore some of the most troubling social and moral issues of the day—notably, poverty and prostitution, the threat of collective violence in the East End, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, the limits of journalistic decency, and, of course, the ability of Scotland Yard to police the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 275-342)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 343-344)
  18. Index
    (pp. 345-354)