Jack the Ripper and the London Press

Article excerpt

Jack the Ripper and the London Press. L. Perry Curtis Jr. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002. 354 pp. $35 hbk.

Think Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and, more recently, Gary Leon Ridgway, perhaps better known as Seattle's "Green River Killer," arrested in November 2001 and dubbed by Time magazine as "the worst serial murderer in U.S. history" in connection with the killings of at least fortynine women. American media have had their own criminal supermonsters with which to contend and, in many ways, to mythicize, but as L. Perry Curtis Jr. makes clear in Jack the Ripper and the London Press, the 1888 mutilation murders attributed to Jack the Ripper were fodder for some of the most sensational crime news stories ever reported in the British press.

In Jack the Ripper and the London Press, L. Perry Curtis Jr., professor of history, modern culture, and media at Brown University, fills a gap formerly missing in the established "Ripperature" by examining how fourteen London newspapers-including the Times, Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, Pall Mall Gazette, Lloyd's, and People-covered the 1888 Whitechapel murders in London's impoverished East End.

Curtis begins his book with a solid review of literature, building upon the welldocumented "Ripper" works of Donald Rumbelow, the cultural studies works of Stuart Hall and Steve Chibnall, Richard Ericson's sociological investigations, and the feminist analyses of Jane Caputi and Helen Benedict regarding violence against women, particularly in regard to sex crimes. Curtis then provides a somewhat brief account of the mutilation murders attributed to Jack the Ripper and spends three more chapters on the state of Victorian journalism.

This is not Curtis' first book dealing with the Victorian press. His first, Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature, examined how cartoons published in the London, Dublin, and New York press reinforced cultural stereotypes of the Irish. In Jack the Ripper, Curtis builds on his earlier cultural studies-based work, albeit in a very different arena-the coverage of truly sensational crime news.

While the first five chapters of Curtis' book provide an exceptionally thorough examination of the social, political, economic, and moral climate of the time, some readers, particularly undergraduate readers, will find the first half of the book quite daunting in its detail of Victorian journalistic and societal practices.

The real strength of the book comes about halfway into the book when Curtis finally begins to analyze the Ripper reportage. With the deaths previously being termed "the first (modern) sex crime," Curtis methodically traces the stories behind the grisly murder mutilations of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly in the autun of 1888. …

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