Jack the Ripper and the London Press


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L. Perry Curtis, Jr.

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Press coverage of the 1888 mutilation murders attributed to Jack the Ripper was of necessity filled with gaps and silences, for the killer remained unknown and Victorian journalists had little experience reporting serial murders and sex crimes. This engrossing book examines how fourteen London newspapers—dailies and weeklies, highbrow and lowbrow—presented the Ripper news, in the process revealing much about the social, political, and sexual anxieties of late Victorian Britain and the role of journalists in reinforcing social norms.

L. Perry Curtis surveys the mass newspaper culture of the era, delving into the nature of sensationalism and the conventions of domestic murder news. Analyzing the fourteen newspapers—two of which emanated from the East End, where the murders took place—he shows how journalists played on the fears of readers about law and order by dwelling on lethal violence rather than sex, offering gruesome details about knife injuries but often withholding some of the more intimate details of the pelvic mutilations. He also considers how the Ripper news affected public perceptions of social conditions in Whitechapel.

L. Perry Curtis, Jr., is professor of history and modern culture and media at Brown University.

“An excellent book that offers a new angle on an always fascinating subject.”—John Davis, Queen’s College, Oxford
“[This] impressive book makes a genuine contribution to 19th-century history in a way that books addressing the banal question of the identity of the Ripper do not.”—Jad Adams, The Guardian

“[A] fascinating study. . . . [Curtis’s] very readable book brings an authoritative voice to a subject that is usually hijacked by publicity-hungry sensationialists, whose claims to have discovered the ‘real’ Ripper are as cynical a sales ploy as any used by the lowest Victorian hack.”—David McAllister, Times Literary Supplement

"A wide-ranging and insightful investigation that is rich in qualitative detail. . . . One need not have an interest in the specifics of the Ripper case—or even in the sociology of crime—to derive much of value from this volume."—Vincent F. Sacco, Contemporary Sociology

“Curtis’s history of the newspapers involved and his tracing of the late-Victorian journalistic scene would be useful for anyone wanting a solid introduction to the Victorian press, a still understudied resource for Victorian studies. Some of his most interesting material involves not reportage but letters to the editor and opinion pieces, which reveal the wide variety of fears and speculations the murders created.”—Andrew Elfenbein, Studies in English Literature

“This solid and highly accessible work summarizes, analyzes, and contextualizes contemporary press reports of the Ripper murders, which galvanized London in 1888.”—Judith Knelman, Albion

“A remarkable cultural history. . . . An unusually balanced and multi-layered history.”—Lydia Murdoch, Victorian Studies

“A fresh look at the Ripper phenomenon. . . . This is a book that has much to offer Ripper enthusiasts and those in search of a detailed and contextualized analysis of the Victorian press’s response to one of the most notorious episodes in the history of modern crime.”—Alex Owen, Journal of Modern History
ISBN: 9780300088724
Publication Date: December 11, 2001
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
8 b/w illus.