‘There are lots of unsolved crimes, but none has aroused the allure of Jack the Ripper’.
The murders of Jack the Ripper stirred controversy and emotion at the time and continues to stimulate fascination within society, not only because of the vicious nature of the crimes but also due to the impact the Jack the Ripper murders had on society. The crimes by Jack the Ripper highlighted a number of differing views towards women prevalent in 19th Century London. In late 19th Century there was a changing attitude towards women, causing ambiguity in the views of women at the time. Through the use of primary documents, this essay intends to illustrate the view of women in late 19th Century London. These views of women were highlighted at the time through the murders of Jack the Ripper. Firstly, the definition of primary evidence will be explained briefly and a number of problems with primary sources will be elucidated. The expected behavior of an English woman will also be presented through the aid of primary sources. The differing views towards women will also be discussed, including the differing opinions towards prostitutes; the idea of the ‘fallen woman’ or prostitutes as creatures of evil. Representations of the victims of Jack the Ripper will also be addressed, in particular the accounts of Mary Kelly. Overall, it will be clear the attitudes towards women in late 19th Century London was a very complex subject and the Jack the Ripper murders aided in drawing attention to ambiguous views of women.
According to the definition, ‘primary sources are first hand accounts of an event, a person’s life, and other historical facts.’ Some examples of primary sources can be newspaper articles, diaries, eye witness accounts, photographs and letters. Furthermore, a primary source should not be based on any other sources. Not all sources have the same reliability and one source can very rarely be used on its own as conclusive evidence. Instead, using a group of primary as evidence is far superior and beneficial to illustrate a view or argument. ‘There is always room for error’ , whether there are translation issues or document bias, for example. Therefore, when utilizing primary sources it must be remembered to understand the possible constraints of the source and consult other, independent sources in order to gain historical truths. The view in 19th Century London of a ‘proper’ English was a very traditional one, where women were generally confined to the domestic and private sphere of society. Women were expected to act politely, respectably and were considered the property of their fathers and then, husbands. This view is clearly expressed in the illustration Business by George du Maurier.
This illustration clearly shows that the attitude towards women in late 19th Century was that they were not of great importance or significance to society; rather they were objects and viewed as a form of decoration and property. This illustration was also published in the Punch newspaper. Punch was one of London’s leading comic weeklies . The media of newspapers was one of the most effective ways of communication with the London public at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, by 1888 London carried thirteen morning and nine evening daily national newspapers. Despite, Thomas Macaulay stating that the ‘only true history of a country is to be found in its newspapers’ , there are a number of constraints to remember when using newspapers as evidence. Newspapers are a commodity product, driven by profit and usually target at a particular group or groups in society. Therefore it must be remember that publishers of newspapers want to attract readers and therefore can present information that is bias or has been dramatized for this purpose. Looking in particular at Business, as it was published in a comedic newspaper, it is presenting a satirical comment on society in order to please and indulge its’ target...
Bibliography: Academic Journals and Texts
Paul Begg, Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History, London, 2003.
L. Perry Curtis, Jack the Ripper and the London Press, London, 2001.
James A. Huston, ‘Clarifying “sources” for clarity in teaching’ The History Teacher, Vol.22, 1989, pp. 139-144, p. 139.
Judith Walkowitz, ‘Jack the Ripper and the myth of male violence’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 8, 1982.
William Acton, Prostitution Considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects 2nd Edition, 1870, at www.victorianlondon.org (under crime: prostitution: attitudes toward) accessed 16 September 2007.
George du Maurier, English Society, New York, 1897, at http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/dumaurier/22.html, accessed 15 September 2007.
George Frederick Watts, 1867, Oil on canvas, Watts Gallery, at http://victorianweb.org/painting/watts/paintings/2.html, accessed 16 September 2007.
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