History : Sep-Oct 2018
World’s Fair, it is also claimed he was Jack the Ripper. The only thing these diverse hypotheses have in common is this: None have been convincing enough to achieve the consensus necessary to close the case for good. Rich and Poor The carnage of the Ripper murders did result in some positive social change. Contempt for the lower classes was ingrained in upper-class thinking. Instead of seeing prostitution as a consequence of poverty, many better-off Londoners saw these women’s decisions as a question of morality and not a question of survival. They subscribed to a prevailing idea that many at the bottom of the social heap lived the way they did because of bad character. By the time of the Ripper murders, social Darwinism—the application of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to human groups—reinforced this idea. Little by little, however, the consensus shifted “THE NEMESIS OF NEGLECT,” AN ENGRAVING IN PUNCH, SEPTEMBER 1888 LOOK AND LEARN/BRIDGEMAN/ACI A BULL’S-EYE LAMP, FROM THE TIME OF THE MURDERS, WAS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF A POLICE OFFICER’S EQUIPMENT WHILE PATROLLING THE LONDON STREETS AT NIGHT. MUSEUM OF LONDON BRIDGEMAN/ACI was not a man but an ape who had escaped from the zoo. Perhaps one of the most outlandish ideas points the finger at Charles Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll and author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A 1996 book claimed that unscrambled anagrams books revealed the killings, an argument has since been dismantled by historians. ome have suggested wealthy doctors as suspects, including Sir William W. Gull, Queen oria’s personal physician. Others point Alexander Pedachenko, an agent of Russia’s tzarist secret police, who supposedly committed the crimes to stain Scotland Yard’s reputation. The plot is detailed in a later document, now lost, written by none other than Rasputin. More re- cent suspects include American serial killer H. H. Holmes. Notorious for several ruesome murders during the 1893 Chicago 86 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 toward tackling the roots of poverty. Founded in Whitechapel in the 1860s, the Salvation Army was already helping prostitutes, and attempting to wean people off the alcohol that had so blighted the lives of the Ripper’s victims. Shaken by the conditions exposed by the Whitechapel murders, conservatives also started calling for reform, motivated partly by enlightened selfinterest: Improving conditions would lessen the chances of social revolt. The murders also prompted socialists to call for meaningful reform. One memorably fiery response to the Ripper case was penned by George Bernard Shaw, who later shot to fame for his satirical play Pygmalion, the basis for the hit musical My Fair Lady. In September 1888 Shaw wrote in the Star newspaper that the Whitechapel murders had forced the wealthy to admit their mistreatment of the poor. With a sardonic twist, Shaw opined that the murderer was doing more to advance the cause of reform than years of political agitation had: “Allow me to make a comment on the success of the Whitechapel murderer in calling attention for a moment to the social question . . . The one argument that touches your lady and gentleman, is the knife.” IGNACIO PEYRÓ IS DIRECTOR OF THE CERVANTES INSTITUTE IN LONDON, ENGLAND, AND HAS WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON BRITISH HISTORY AND CULTURE.