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S E V E N Jack the Ripper here is only one topic throughout all England," wrote W. T. Stead in the Pall Mall Gazette on i October 1888, and that topic was the Whitechapel murders of "Jack the Ripper." 1 Stead himself took the lead in extracting copy from the Ripper murders: acting in collusion with I the entire London daily press, he compiled and sum- marized news accounts from the morning papers in his evening publica- tion, offering some characteristic twists of his own. Thanks to Stead and his newspaper contemporaries, the Ripper story became national news. It was constructed piecemeal over a period of sev- eral weeks, as observers struggled to discern patterns from a murder se- quence that they regarded as unique in the annals of crime. Throughout the autumn of terror, the daily press, catering to many different reading pub- lics, was hard at work distilling meaning from the news breaks of the day, while also backtracking and retrospectively establishing a pattern of sig- nificance for preceding murders. Drawing on cultural fantasiesabout the grotesque female body, about the labyrinthine city, about the mad doctor-that had long circulated among different strata of Victorian cul- ture, media coverage also highlighted new elements of late-Victorian con- ceptions of the self and London's imaginary landscape. Media organization of the Ripper narrative helped to contextualize the events of autumn 1888 and to manage anxieties unleashed by the murders. Contemporary observers, keenly aware of the Ripper episode as a media event, periodically took the press to task for provoking hysteria and inter- CI HAI ' TKR S K V I ' N fering with the police investigation; but they, along with the experts and the general public, gained their understanding of the Ripper murders through the newspapers. However much diverse constituencies intervened to shape the media's interpretation of the Ripper crisis according to their own politi- cal agendas, they were also compelled by the overall gestalt produced by the media. As the property of the entire daily press, the Ripper story represented a different kind of media production, with a decidedly more ambiguous po- litical message, than Stead's "Maiden Tribute" or Mrs. Weldon's populist campaign in defense of the "liberty of the subject." In contrast to these two causes celebres, media organization of the Ripper story had no defined po- litical center, and women were significantly marginalized from the public telling of the story. This is not to say that all public interventions carried the same weight or that women were completely outside the cultural produc- tion of the Ripper narrative. At the local level, working-class women par- ticipated in informal storytelling, providing information that others used to process into clues. A similar reprocessing occurred in relation to feminist and antivivisectionist representations of prostitution and of the sexual dan- ger of medicine. Media coverage of the murders took up the themes andger of medicine.... View Full Document

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