Archive Project: Jack the Ripper

If there’s anything I’ve learned about the Victorian era, it’s that it contained sexually frustrated men and women. While the romantic sensation novel was present, it was read when the housewives were home and the husbands were out to work and play. Though these sensations and sexual interests were often cloaked behind books and language, there were a series of events that captivated the London eye and brought sex to the forefront of discussion, pushing back against the modest pretenses of the time.

During the year 1888, a serial killer made his presence known in Whitechapel, a district of East London. The murderer targeted female prostitutes, ripping them apart with such anatomical accuracy that many believed him to be a doctor. The killer became known as Jack the Ripper, and articles, illustrations, and letters written by Jack the Ripper or people claiming to be him were all released to the public during this time period. The Jack the Ripper scandal became a real life sensation novel for the public to engage in, there was even a horrifying similarity between each new killing as a new “chapter” in a novel. As these letters and articles were published in newspapers and became the hot topic of debate in London, the men and women were forced to address the reality of sex crimes.

In the first letter signed “Jack the Ripper,” he makes fun of the police’s inadequacy in finding him and his plan to continue, “ripping them [whores] till I do get buckled’ (Anonymous). Even the graphic nature of the crimes and reports, such as one victim’s uterus being removed by the killer, brought sexual organs to the forefront of thought. Men and women of all classes were captivated by these tragedies, as is evidenced with an illustration in The Illustrated Police News that depicts four women that seem to be of higher class (noting their dresses and coats) with weapons in their hands and the caption, “Ready for the Whitechapel Fiend Women Secretly Armed” (Whitechapel Murders). Thus the death and sex sensation became a part of society rather than an escape from it (through a novel). The brutal carving of the victims’ sex organs as well as the work of the women who were killed left no room to hide the sexual deviance that was coming to light in society. One article written after the death of the first prostitute highlights the social status of the victim with, “unhappily, one result of the inquiries made has been to connect the deceased with that class of women whom poverty or misfortune have driven to seeking a living upon the streets of London” (The Body is Identified). All classes, wrapped up in their real-life sex and murder mystery, had to address prostitution and the degrading conditions these women lived in in order to survive independently of a man’s income.

This letter, illustration, and article addressing the gruesome acts of Jack the Ripper upon the unsuspecting people of Whitchapel should be in the Victorian Queer Archive in order to highlight one of the first times London’s society was forced to notice the lives of prostitutes. Not only did the constant newspaper updates bring forth sex, sexual organs, and prostitution, which would normally be unacceptable topics, it also generated discussion between men and women about the act of prostitution. Sex for money, really sex outside of marriage and for any purpose other than reproduction, had not been so heavily debated until Jack the Ripper began to make society acknowledge the humanity of these prostitutes and fight to save their lives.

Victorian Queer Archive:


Works Cited

Anonymous. “Dear Boss Letter.” Letter to Central News Office. 25 Sept. 1888. London.

Anonymous. “Whitechapel Murders.” The Illustrated Police News [London] 22 Sept. 1888: No.1,284. Print.

“Whitechapel Murders. The Body is Identified. But Where is the Murderer?” East London Observer [London] 18 Aug. 1888: n.p. Print.

The Pleasure in Danger

I was particularly drawn to the overtly sexual Salammbo image in the Trout Gallery and how it actually seemed very similar to the cover photo on Christina Rossetti’s children’s poem Goblin Market. Salammbo shows a luminous, white woman, naked except for a snake draped and intertwined around her body. The snake seems locked around her torso, ultimately in control, yet the woman has a look of pleasure on her face. A man looks on from a shaded corner, playing an instrument that may tame the snake and the woman. Similar to this, the cover for Goblin Market depicts a young, pale woman, being crowded by grimy goblins. She wears a white dress that blends in with her skin and serves to accentuate her figure. The goblins play the same role as the snake in the Salammbo engraving as they hold the woman in place and drape themselves over her body. The woman, though in a seemingly compromising position, does not appear upset, and instead looks longingly into the distance.

When reading The Goblin Market it became most interesting to me that forces of nature control these two women in the images. In Rossetti’s poem, Laura, one of the sisters in the story, is drawn to these goblin men selling luscious fruits and is described as having “stretched her gleaming neck” towards them and their fruits (Rossetti 3). Once she gives a locket of her golden hair to them (literally giving a piece of her body over to them) she devourers the fruit and “sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore” (Rossetti 4). She enjoys the fruit and giving in to her desire, even though she knows it is wrong. Similarly, the woman in Salammbo looks to be in bliss despite the snake and on-looking man. In both cases, natural elements, whether it be fruit or animals, overtake the women as men (male goblins counted) watch on. Goblin Market is meant to be a warning against engaging with forbidden temptations, yet the text shows a woman receiving some amount of ecstasy from it. The Salammbo image also serves to warn the viewer of the exotic snake and creepy man, yet lures the viewer in to the women with the look of pleasure on her face. In this way, it seems like both instances are overtly showing exoticism as dangerous and seductive, yet also proving the pleasure that can be taken from engaging with these exotic experiences. If these exotic experiences can be replaced with sexuality, a type of danger and otherness to those who want to keep up certain appearances in the Victorian era, the two sources might show a hidden look into the joys of engaging with forbidden sexual acts or sexuality.


Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier, Gabrial. Salammbo. 1889. Trout Gallery, Carlisle. Web. 3 Nov. 2016.

Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems.New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

"Salammbo" (1889) by Gabrial Ferrier, etching
“Salammbo” (1889) by Gabrial Ferrier, etching

Count Fosco and The Prostitute

When initially looking at the chaos and crude happenings in the engraving titled “Mixing A Recipe for Corns”, I could not help but think of the main character in the image as a strange reflection of our dear Count Fosco in The Woman in White. Just as Count Fosco keeps a constant flurry of animals around him at all times, the woman in the engraving is surrounded by an uncomfortable number of little animals or animal references (such as peacock feathers). There even appears to be a cockatoo in the image, just as Count Fosco had a cockatoo, “a most vicious and treacherous bird towards towards every one else” (219). In the photo the wild animals add to the sense of frenzy and lack of control this woman has in her declining youth, whereas in The Woman in White, Count Fosco’s animals serve to show his desire for control, which highlights how a multitude of animals could be seen in contrasting lights based on the gender of who is controlling them.

I also noticed a similarity to Count Fosco in the subject of the engraving. The declining prostitute, who is wildly stirring a cauldron with one hand, is a bit gender ambiguous. I, at first, mistook the subject for a man, as the hair is tied away and the facial features err on the more manly side. Count Fosco also seems to have more feminine traits at times, such as his elaborate clothing and how he moves about a room, “he is as noiseless in a room as any of us woman” (219). In regards to the engraving, the prostitute is also the most colorful, and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to her and her activities instantly. This hearkens to the characters in the story, even Marian, who are inevitably drawn to this figure of Count Fosco. We discussed in the Trout Gallery that the prostitute seems almost witch-like, with her cauldron on the fire and bottles of potions thrown on the table and around her feet. This relates to Count Fosco’s obsession with alternative medicine, and all the references we have to his likeness for poison. Thus like the woman in the etching, it’s easy to picture Count Fosco deviously mixing a concoction of flowers and herbs to use against the other characters in the book.

Why did I spend so long pointing out the strange similarities between the prostitute in “Mixing A Recipe for Corns” and Count Fosco’s character in The Woman in White? I find it interesting that while these two people have many similar qualities, habits, and affinities, one is a withering prostitute who will spend her life teaching other women to learn how to degrade themselves to men and the other is a formidable man who has an immense amount of authority and respect. This just seems to highlight the influence of gender within the time period, and how males can flourish while holding the same characteristics of females, or in this case, a frumpy, old prostitute.


Cruikshank, George. Mixing a Recipe for Corns. 1835. Trout Gallery, Carisle. Web. 11 Oct 2016.

The Obsessive Importance of Beauty

While reading Altick’s “The Nature of Art and its Place in Society”, I found Ruskin’s idea of beauty so directly affecting a man’s quality of life one of importance to The Woman in White. Altick notes that “Ruskin maintained that culture (as he conceived it) was a function, in the first instance, of the eyes” (Altick). One theme we’ve continually hit on while reading The Woman in White is the incredible attention given to women’s appearances and the value of their aesthetics. I would say that similar to how Ruskin believed a man’s happiness and spiritual devotion could be determined by the amount of beauty around him, the men in the Victorian era (or so it seems after reading this novel) based much of their lives around women’s appearances. Whether this means being attracted to a woman based on her appearance or acknowledging that her appearance can hint to social status, it’s clear that there is an obsession with physical descriptions and what they reveal about a woman and thus impact a man’s opinion of her.

Upon Waltar meeting Marian and Laura, he devotes entire pages to describing their outward appearances and his reaction to them. In the case of Marian, Waltar is immediately taken aback by her dark, man-like, and “ugly” features, which stand in such opposition to her “rare beauty of form” he had been appreciating a moment before (Collins 34). Marian even defines herself as “dark and ugly” while mentioning in the same line that her father was poor and she has nothing (Collins 34). Poverty and ugliness seem to be connected here, as wealth and beauty are connected in the case of Laura. Waltar describes Laura as a “fair, delicate girl”, and her light skin and feeble mannerisms were quite desirable. Ruskin’s idea of beauty fulfilling men (though he means art as beauty in his case) seems to reflect the intense detail given to appearance in the Victorian novel and how men, or certainly Waltar, are influenced greatly by outward beauty.

Ruskin also believes that public beauty, whether it be in the form of landscaping or architecture, is a reflection of the social health (Altick). He notes that the societal illness of the Victorian period can be seen through “the incongruously styled and hideously overornamented public and commercial buildings” (Altick). I wonder if the beauty of buildings and landscapes meant to inspire men and reflect a healthy society has been transferred to the beauty of women in the Victorian novel. After all, the beautiful Laura attains the affection of Waltar and represents money and social status, whereas the sickly Anne and “ugly” Marian have no marriage potential and no economic standing.



Mr. Gilmore’s Hidden (Or Not) Desires

I would like to discuss Mr. Gilmore’s…sexuality. Though his prose is much more blunt and efficient than Mr.Hartright’s elaborate descriptions of people and places, the narrative style does not necessarily reflect masculinity even though we may typically associate straight-forward, effective language with men instead of the “flowery” or emotional language of women (stereotypes, let’s be clear). I want to address one particular sentence that I think hints to Mr. Gilmore’s sexual desires through the text. After Sir Percival (whom I believe might be the object of Mr. Gilmore’s affection) takes the note from Miss. Halcombe addressed to Mrs. Catherick without looking at it and addresses it and hands it back to Miss. Halcombe, Mr. Gilmore notes, “I never saw anything more gracefully and more becomingly done, in my life” (133). Is this simply approval of Sir Percival’s mannerisms on Mr. Gilmore’s behalf? I would argue there is desire within the sentence. Mr. Gilmore’s language, up until his encounters with Sir Percival, is fairly unemotional and fittingly, lawyer-like. He calls Mr. Hartright a “modest and gentlemanlike young man” (128) and Mr. Fairlie as a “helpless sufferer” (129). Brutally honest, and thus as a reader I came to see Mr. Gilmore as a frank, open man. Mr. Gilmore even describes the women in a very matter-of-fact manner, not mentioning their bodies or beauty (or lack thereof) as Mr. Hartright did.

Saying that Sir Percival’s actions were graceful is the most sensuous wording I’d read from Mr. Gilmore throughout the text. The use of the word “becomingly” suggests an attraction to Sir Percival’s actions while the notion that Mr. Gilmore’s “never seen” anything as graceful alludes to the fact that he has never been as tempted by someone, including women, before. I think the “in my life” highlights the awareness Mr. Gilmore has that his attraction to men is not something that occurs in the lives of other men; I would read it as “in my life”. The sentence is just one of many that hints quite obviously (at least I think so) to the desire Mr. Gilmore has for Sir Percival. He even later describes him as, “a gentleman, every inch of him” (146). I cannot help but associate this with sexual desire! It is not only the words, but the break in his usual objective text. In this novel, it may be those moments, when the narrators’ seemingly innocently comment on actions within the story, when they betray their true emotions. In this multi-narrator text, it’s fascinating to see how observing how different narrators comment on people and describe the events around them can allude to their own desires and thoughts more than the actions in the narrative.