Jack the Ripper and British Attitudes to Sex and Murder: Conclusion

As this four-part series has demonstrated, the lure of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders allows us to examine society’s fascination with sex and murder.  Murders, firstly, allow people to feel the excitement of knowing that life is short while still remaining safe in their homes.  The constant sense of mystery about Jack the Ripper has also added to society’s interest with its ability to pique people’s curiosity.  Furthermore, due to the fact that he was never caught, there was never any “closure” or any way to know why he did it, leaving us with only our imaginations to try to find the answer (For the full post discussing people’s interest in murder and mystery Click Here).


Where the murders took place is also important, it could be linked to much of the messaging that social investigators such as Henry Mayhew, philanthropists concerned with morality and those concerned with sanitation were promoting.  The press highlighted many of the issues that these groups were talking about; pointing out that the overcrowding and dark streets were a large reason why things were so dire in this part of London.  On the other hand, the fact that the murders were limited to Whitechapel allowed middle class readers to feel comforted by the fact that these dangers were far away from them, allowing them to watch the events from a distance (for more information about the role of Whitechapel with the fascination with Jack the Ripper Click Here).


Presenting these women as common prostitutes, or “unfortunates”, allowed, not only for readers to be further distanced from such brutality but also for commentators to make a point about the immorality of the area and the dangers of sexual deviation.  Yet when the press and investigators looked into these women’s lives it was often found that this was not accurate, out of the canonical five, only Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly were the only ones who had any connection to prostitution.  Even then, Elizabeth Stride, in particular, was found to mostly work as a charwoman, people who knew said that she only resorted to prostitution “when driven to extremities” and, furthermore, rather than having a reputation as a hardened prostitute, she was well liked by those who knew her and remembered her as a quiet person.[1]  These murders demonstrate the ways that Victorians navigated around the question of sex and sexual behaviour; as a topic that was required to be discussed in rather indirect ways, the press used language in ways to navigate around taboo words in order to provide the reading public with as much detail and sexual intrigue as possible (for more information about the role of sex and sexual behaviour and the fascination with the Whitechapel Murders Click Here).


Through the Whitechapel Murders, it is possible to see how the Victorian press linked the reputation of the area with the reputation of prostitutes; the prostitutes found working in Whitechapel were thought to be the lowest members of society and connected to the criminal underworld also thought to preside there.  The fact that women who were labelled as prostitutes were killed in an area that was viewed as their geographical equivalent appears as a symbolic connection and as some of the theories as to who was Jack the Ripper show, it appeared to be treated as such.  The search and determination to find a Jewish Jack demonstrates how the linking of different “outcasts” within the “outcast” area of London as a way to comprehend the mutilations and violence of the Whitechapel Murders (for more information about how stereotypes and prejudice had a role in the fascination with the Whitechapel Murders Click Here).

[1] “The Whitechapel Murders: Rewards Offered: Inquest on Elizabeth Stride,” Birmingham Daily Post, (Birmingham, Tuesday 2 October 1888), Issue 9444.

Jack the Ripper and British Attitudes to Sex and Murder: Reliance on and promoting stereotypes

During his “reign of terror” in 1888 – the canonical five were killed between Friday 31 August to Friday 9 November 1888[1] – and continuing to this day, there has been a strong sense of fascination and lure in the Whitechapel murders.  Many, from the press at the time to ripperologists and historians today, have debated and reread the evidence over and over in the hopes of finding out who was Jack the Ripper and, at the time, to find out how these women died; the press provided the reading public with as much detail as possible on how these women were found, the scene of their murders and what it was thought had happened to them.  After all this time, however, the question remains, why did Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders cause such fascination and lead to the newspapers of 1888 to sell in record numbers?  In this fourth and final part to the examination of society’s almost obsession with Jack the Ripper, I will be focusing on the role of stereotypes; the way that they were relied on when there seemed no hope of finding the murderer and how they impacted the East End at the time will be considered. Continue reading Jack the Ripper and British Attitudes to Sex and Murder: Reliance on and promoting stereotypes

Jack the Ripper and British Attitudes to Sex and Murder: Whitechapel and the importance of Location

With such persistent interest and fascination in the Whitechapel murders, it must be asked: why?  What is it about Jack the Ripper and his murders that have grabbed people’s attention for so long?  This series of posts are exploring this question and what it can tell us about people’s fixation on sex and murder and each post has focused on a different point.  This particular post will be looking at the importance the location of the murders had on the reading public’s interest.  Whitechapel and the East End of London as a whole was an area with a dark reputation; a place thought to breed immorality and thus the geographical alternative to what the common prostitute represented for society. Continue reading Jack the Ripper and British Attitudes to Sex and Murder: Whitechapel and the importance of Location