Thursday, 5 December 2013

Jack the Ripper and the East End Compiled and Edited by Alex Werner

The man is the product of his environment, the Monster who killed at least five women known as 'The Ripper' was touted as the product of the poverty and squalor of East End's dark and dangerous alley ways.  Or was he? What was the East End of the 1880s and early 1890s that created this monster? Has poverty lead to moral depravity as newspapers cried? Was the Dorset street really the worst street to live? 

Introduced by Peter Ackroyd, the essays in this collection are 'The Imaginative Geography of the Whitechapel Murders' by John Marriott, 'The Immigrant Community of the Whitechapel at the time of the Ripper Murders' by Anne J. Kershen, 'Law, Order and Violence' by Louise A Jackson, 'Common Lodgings and 'furnished rooms': Housing in 1880s Whitechapel' by  Richard Dennis, ''Deeds of Heroism': Whitechapel's Ladies' by Ellen Ross, 'Mapping the East End Labyrinth' by Laura Vaughan, 'Jack the Ripper and the legacy in pictures' by Clive Bloom. This collection of essays give insight into the East End of the 19th century with statistics, demographics, maps, newspaper articles and most of all rare photographs of the time. The Lodging Houses of East End were blamed for moral depravity, so how were the Lodging Houses of the East End and what was the impact of the Ripper Murders on the East End. We learn that George Bernard Shaw commented that Jack the Ripper had done more to spotlight the terrible conditions in the East End than any social reformer. 

We learn about the suspects. That many of the suspects were Jews. The writing on the wall near one of the brutal murders blames Jews for the murders. The East End was portrayed as a ghetto, was it so? We learn that the Docklands created a great scope for unskilled labour and immigrants flocked the Docklands for work. And Jews seeking refuge from prosecution from European countries lived in East End along with other immigrants namely Irish and local people. The colour coded poverty map of Charles Booth Map shows that Whitechapel had both well to do people living along with the poor. Not much different from other suburbs. 

How did the migrants Jews lived? How did people live in the East End? Why were the living conditions so bad in the East End? How was East End of the Ripper murders portrayed in movies and fiction? If East End had such a bad reputation as it was touted then did respectable women visit the East End? We find answers for all these questions. 

I loved all the photos in the book, they gives us an idea about the people and their place. Some of the photos showed that far from a place of desolation, East End had a vibrant market with beaming people. While all the research articles were interesting, the one that really caught my attention is the essay on 'Mapping the East End Labyrinth" by Laura Vaughan, which uses a concept called Space Syntax to create a colour coded 'Axial Map' of the East End to show how integrated or segregated each street is. With the help of the map the author points out that 

"It is striking to note that if we look at the location of the other murder sites, a similar spatial structure is revealed, with the streets typically being in the medium to low colour range, but not completely segregated, as might have been envisaged."

These are very readable research articles about the East End of the Jack the Ripper. Even if one is not interested in research, demographics, and essays about that time, the photos alone make it worthwhile. 

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