Jack The Ripper As The Threat Of Outcast London Essay

Jack The Ripper As The Threat Of Outcast London Term paper

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Jack the Ripper As the Threat of Outcast London - Serial Killer MurderDURING THE autumn of 1888, a killer terrorized London. He chose as his victims mostly older, decrepit, drink-ridden prostitutes from the East End district of Whitechapel. The name "Jack the Ripper" appeared on a number of letters mailed to the police and to various news agencies. The publication of several of these letters, in the hope that someone would recognize the handwriting, vastly increased the killer's fame. It has never been established that the murderer wrote any of the letters. Nevertheless, without them, the memorable appellation would never have been attached to the killer, and the murders themselves would probably now be long forgotten. The question of who performed the brutal killings and sexual mutilations has baffled later writers as much as it did the London Metropolitan Police in 1888. Many authors have posited theories, but no one hypothesis has been proven conclusively.Unlike most papers on this subject, I intend to avoid the issue of who committed these horrible crimes, but instead to examine the reactions of London, both West and East Ends, to the killings. Jack the Ripper should be studied within the context of the 1880s, a period of economic uncertainty and heightened class tensions. The Whitechapel murders provide a case study of sorts. The reactions of the West End mirrored the debate over "Outcast London" and the fear of social revolution on the part of the poor of the East End. The reactions of the East End reflected ingrained prejudices against foreigners, Jews, the police, and upper class society. By examining the social conditions in East London, particularly Whitechapel where the killer operated most often, I hope to show why the East End was viewed with such concern and distrust even before the autumn of 1888. By discussing social unrest in east London and the fear of revolution among many in the West End in the 1880s, I plan to show how the Jack the Ripper murders reinforced a whole series of larger long-standing concerns and preconceived notions. Finally, by looking at the types of individuals who were suspected of being involved in these hideous events, I will reveal how the more-affluentPage 2------------------------------------------------------------------------Victorians' reaction to Jack the Ripper exhibited deep-seated prejudices against certain social classes and elements of the population.By the mid-1880s, "the East End had become as potent a symbol of urban poverty . . . as Manchester had been of industrial conditions in the 1840s."1 Many in the West End viewed the East as a place where the "vilest practices are looked upon with the most matter-of-fact indifference . . . [and where] the filthy and abominable from all parts of the country seem to flow. Entire courts are filled with thieves, prostitutes, and liberated convicts."2 A number of journalists and social commentators, such as Walter Besant, Jane Stuart-Wortley, and Samuel Barnett, tried to alter West End perceptions and prejudices . Yet, east London was too firmly fixed in most people's minds as a symbol of decadence, immorality, criminality, and poverty to be replaced easily. Such negative perceptions, in fact, migrated from West to East. Dr. Curshan Corner noted that people in the East were "coming to think that any discomforts or annoyances, any offensive innovations or dangerous nuisances . . . must be resignedly tolerated because it is East London."3There is no doubt that life in east London was difficult for many of its 900,000 inhabitants. Whitechapel, with a population of 76,000, had 39.2 percent of its citizens on or below the poverty line.4 Many workers could only find intermittent employment, and those who had regular employment often did not fare better. The sweating system, exemplified by overcrowded, unsanitary workshops, long hours, and low wages, was widely utilized. Many were forced to toil for fifteen to eighteen hours a day in the numerous tailoring, boot-making, and cabinet- making shops of the East End.5Poverty was not the only problem leading to social unrest in London. The influx of foreigners, many of them Russian or German Jews fleeing persecution or economic hardship on the continent, caused concern that "English" jobs were being lost to the flood of new-comers. The belief that a rising tide of Jewish immigration was reducing native Englishmen to destitution led to an increase in popular anti-semitism. The comment that "the foreign Jews are filthy in their lives, and present a substantial similarity to the Mongolian type of character "did not seem out of the ordinary during periods of economic distress.6 Contemporary social thinkers Charles Booth and Stephen Fox attempted to alter this impression by stating that Jews were hard working and law abiding, and, most importantly, were not immigrating in unprecedented numbers.7 Such perceptions, like ones of east London generally, were extremely difficult to combat.The fact remained that most foreign Jews immigrating to England took up residence in London. The Jewish community in Whitechapel was particularly compact. Of the 60-70,000 Jews in London, ninety percent lived in the East End.Page 3------------------------------------------------------------------------Only one-half were born in England. Whitechapel alone had a Jewish population of 30-40,000.8 Like their forbears, most Jewish refugees made good on the few opportunities presented to them. As Charles Booth notedThey are set down on an already over-stocked and demoralized labour market. They are surrounded by the drunkenness, immorality and gambling of the East-End streets . . . in the midst of the very refuse of our civilization, and yet . . . whether they become bootmakers, tailors, cabinet-makers, glaziers, or dealers, the Jewish inhabitants of the East End rise in the social scale.9The Jews' success created some animosity with the Irish community. It may have troubled some Irishmen to see that long hours, periods of unemployment, bad food, overcrowding, in fact, "all the conditions which ruin the Anglo-Saxon or Irish inhabitant of the East End seem to leave unhurt the moral and physical fibre of the Jew."10In addition to the supposed dislocation caused by the influx of foreigners into east London, social commentators recognized a large number of long-standing problems which needed to be solved -- overcrowding, poor sanitation, excessive drinking, immorality, and poverty. All of these concerns were intimately connected. Victorian social legislators had long adhered to the notion that improved living conditions in the East would lead to a decrease in the amount of vice and crime. There would be little change as long as there were "reeking courts, crowded public-houses, low lodging houses, and numerous brothels . . . poverty, rags, and dirt everywhere."11Overcrowding was a huge problem in east London. In 1891, 55.5 percent of the people in Whitechapel lived with more than two persons per room in apartments with fewer than five rooms. Two districts of east London had even higher rates. Such living conditions were due in part to the large rent increases in the East over the previous quarter century. Although rents in the West only rose by 11 percent between 1880 and 1900, those in the East End jumped by 25 percent."12 Overcrowding led to the association of the honest poor with criminal elements, and produced "incest, illegitimacy, juvenile prostitution, drunkenness, dirt, idleness, [and] disease."13It also prompted people to spend as much of their time as possible away from home ;although many joined social, religious, or philanthropic clubs, a larger number spent much of their spare time in the local public houses. Drunkenness led to disease, the loss of jobs, and, often, violence."14 Poor sanitation, another problem intimately linked with overcrowding, caused a high rate of child mortality. According to Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, reform on this------------------------------------------------------------------------Page 4front would not only be useful "in saving human life and health, but also in reducing the prevalence of crime."15 An inadequate water supply made personal cleanliness impossible. The lack of mortuaries forced some poor families to keep the corpses of their loved ones in their own living room until the day of the funeral.16Part of the problem of overcrowding was due to the policies of the government and to middle-class reformers. The demolition of unsanitary buildings, under the provisions of the 1875 Artisans and Labourers Dwelling Act, led to some rebuilding, but often the new apartments were too expensive for the earlier tenants to rent. This led to more crowding in the slums adjacent to the "improved" areas.17 Some commentators were outraged by the government's lack of foresight ;the journalist George Sims revealed that "in scores of instances the work of improvement has stopped with the pulling down" and argued that instead of"civilizing the Zulu and improving the condition of the Egyptian fellah the Government should turn its attention to the poor of London."18 Other writers noted that rising rents defeated the purpose of the housing legislation. The philanthropist Octavia Hill commented that the government should "be thankful if [it] can secure for the same rent even one room in a new, clean, pure house." 19For many of the poor, common lodging houses provided the only escape from spending the night on the streets. These houses were as profitable to their owners as they were wretched and degrading for their boarders. In such houses, it was often difficult to distinguish between the honest and the criminal poor. Indeed, the police frequently did not make any distinction between the two at all. The common lodging house system did allow the police a larger measure of social control. The owners of the houses were often prepared "to assist the police with information, and the inmates [were] under police supervision to a greater extent than they would be if they were driven to live elsewhere."20There was a strong perception among middle class reformers that there was a close connection between the common lodging houses and prostitution in London. One writer expressed it this way, "want first, exigency next, bad companions in low lodging-houses next, and the fatal step--the last [prostitution]."21 Both prostitution and lodging houses flourished in the East End. Whitechapel contained sixty- three brothels, 1,200 known prostitutes (a conservative estimate), and 233 common lodging houses capable of holding 8,500 people. In addition to those who chose prostitution as a full-time profession, many women engaged in certain low paying trades (specifically needlewomen, slopworkers, actresses, seamstresses, and lacemakers) resorted to "casual prostitution" in times of economic hardship. Such activity was often the only way these women could make ends meet ;their neighbors, families, and------------------------------------------------------------------------Page 5friends usually understood the pressures of economic necessity and did not shun them.22London was an extremely hospitable environment for the practice of prostitution. It's size provided anonymity, protection from police harassment, and a constant supply of customers. The police were generally more concerned with prostitution in the West End since "it was [there] 0more likely to come to the notice of respectable persons, press reporters, and foreigners." For most of the 1880s, East End prostitutes were left to ply their trade in relative peace. Prostitution was not actually a crime in Victorian England ;the police could only take action if the prostitutes' solicitation created a public disturbance. 24In the mid-1860s, the government passed a series of laws in an attempt to control the spread of contagious diseases in the armed forces through the incarceration of infected prostitutes. Although these acts were removed from the statute books in 1886, opposition to the state-regulated prostitution of the Contagious Diseases Acts spawned a social purity movement. Moralist activity turned from the protection of working class women from police harassment to the repression of prostitution. 25 Recognizing that the "attitude of the average working girl towards . . . her sexuality, and the sexual act itself was so foreign, and so inimical to prevailing middle class conventions,"26 the social purity movement wished to root out "the traditional social and sexual habits of the poor.27Josephine Butler, the leader of the opposition to the Contagious Diseases Acts, disapproved of and spoke out against such attempts to legislate morality. Furthermore, The Pall Mall Gazette published a letter arguing that it was "impossible to do anything furthering morality by the law of the land without also touching the economical relations of society."28 No one heeded their pleas. Parliament raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, and attempted to crack down on houses of ill-repute. Between 1885 and 1914, 1,200 brothels were prosecuted annually in England and Wales ;between 1875 and 1884, the average had been eighty-six per year. Even though the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren, tried to initiate a policy of laissez-faire towards prostitution in the summer of 1887, two hundred brothels in east London were closed in that year as a result of the actions of the government and various purity groups. Coming shortly before the outbreak of the Jack the Ripper murders, these closings rendered "thousands of women homeless, hence vulnerable to attack, and certainly [made] the lower stratum of prostitution . . . even more precarious as a means of subsistence."29In the best of times, the East End was a brutal environment. The Vicar of St. Jude 's Church in Whitechapel, Samuel Barnett, called for the closing of the open------------------------------------------------------------------------Page 6slaughter-houses because of "his concern for the moral consequences, especially for the children of the poor, of this open peep- show of cruelty to animals."30 George Sims, in his works How the Poor Live and Horrible London, related that "the spirit of murder hovers over this spot [east London], for life is held of little account."31 He argued that the constant association of the honest with the criminal poor led to the moral deterioration of the former. Sims stated that the people of the East were so used to the sound of violence, that few would stir to see what was the matter. In fact, Sims found that "they became hardened and the cruelty at which we shudder is their second nature . . . only the ferocious instincts of the brute are fostered."32 Drunkenness often led to violence. Assaults of men on women occurred with great frequency. In a scene which certainly harkens to the later Whitechapel slayings, Sims wrote, "Down from one dark court rings a cry of murder, and a woman, her face hideously gashed, makes across the narrow road, pursued by a howling madman. It is only a drunken husband having a row with his wife."33 What made the East End especially disturbing was the fact that the rest of Victorian society was becoming noticeably less violent ;crime had been declining in proportion to the population since the middle of the century. Violent crimes were very rare. Trials for homicide declined by seventy percent between the 1830s and 1914, and fifty-three percent fewer homicides were reported between 1870 and the start of World War I. The East End generally, and Jack the Ripper specifically, served as a reminder of the scope of the problems remaining to be solved. 34All of the problems listed above, from crime to prostitution to poverty, were long-standing. For a number of reasons, these issues became much more hotly debated in the 1880s than previously. The writings of Andrew Mearns, Beatrice Potter, Samuel Barnett, Charles Booth, George Sims and others were read and understood in a new way. One wrote that the poor will someday "burst their barriers at last, and declare open and violent war against law and order and property."35 Another stated that "the life of a sweaters' man is so hopeless and dreary that their feelings against the order of things are not unnaturally bitter and intense."36 Governmental procrastination had not made the problems disappear. Now the plight of the East End was seen to inflame class tensions and, perhaps, provoke bloody insurrection.The reason for this renewed interest in writings on the problems of east London was, simply, the fear among many in the West that the East End's revolutionary tendencies were beginning to bubble to the surface. The 1880s was a period of industrial depression in which "the dangerous possibility [existed] . . . that the respectable working class, under the stress of prolonged unemployment,------------------------------------------------------------------------Page 7might throw in its lot with the casual poor."37 The casual laboring poor, who were viewed as morally degenerate by many in the West, were often confused with the criminal poor. The threat would come from the casuals of the East End, because "only there . . . could a formidable riot take place, given the combination of 12,000 sailors . . . and the 7,000-8,000 dock labourers and lightermen."38It is clear that it would take more than a new spate of pamphlets on the problems and hypothetical revolutionary tendencies of east London to stir the West out of its comfortable apathy. The spark was provided by the riots and demonstrations centering around Trafalgar Square between early 1886 and November,1887. On 8 February 1886, the Fair Trade League held a meeting in Trafalgar Square to demand protective tariffs and public works to cure unemployment. Roughly 20,000 people, many of them dock and building workers, assembled. When the Social Democratic Federation interrupted the meeting and led part of the crowd in the direction of Hyde Park, a portion of the crowd marched west, bent on mischief. In the looting that followed, roughly 50,000 in damage was done. Over the next two days, a dense fog covered London, increasing the nervousness of West End shop owners. On the advice of the Metropolitan Police, many businessmen closed and barricaded their shops. Public confidence in the police was shaken by the ordeal.39In the summer of 1887, a large number of homeless, unemployed vagrants began to camp in Trafalgar Square. The police was reluctant to remove them at first. The fact that charitable organizations in the West End provided the squatters with donations of free food made the problem worse. On 8 November, after many heated arguments with the Conservative Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, Sir Charles Warren,the head of the Metropolitan Police, took decisive action to disperse what he called the "veriest scum of the population;"40 he banned all meetings in and processions to Trafalgar Square. On "Bloody Sunday," 13 November 1887, the Metropolitan Federation of Radical Clubs organized a series of marches and demonstrations to protest the government's policy of coercion in Ireland . The police violently dispersed the marchers before they reached Trafalgar Square.41The reaction of the West End to "Bloody Sunday" was, on the whole, positive. The Times rejoiced that Warren's decisive action had defeated "a deliberate attempt . . . to terrorize London by placing the control of the streets in the hands of the criminal classes."42 Nevertheless,the threat of the East End had been twice demonstrated. The danger was multiplied many times in the minds of many in the West because of their inability to "adequately distinguish between the ordinary poorer classes and the criminal classes;" thus, "every large assembly of people assumes to their disordered imagination the aspects of a dangerous and ------------------------------------------------------------------------Page 8hostile mob."43THIS PERIOD represented a culmination of tensions between West and East. By the autumn of 1888, "the respectable classes were obsessed with fears of class conflict and social disintegration[;] coming so fast on the heels of the West
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