SEVE NJacktheRipperhere is only one topic throughout all England," wroteW. T. Stead in thePall Mall Gazetteoni October 1888,and that topic was the Whitechapel murders of "Jackthe Ripper."1Stead himself took the lead in extractingcopy from the Ripper murders: acting in collusion withI 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 storybecame 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 theautumn 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 fantasies—aboutthe grotesque female body, about the labyrinthine city, about the maddoctor—-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 theevents of autumn 1888 and to manage anxieties unleashed by the murders.Contemporary observers, keenly aware of the Ripper episode as a mediaevent, periodically took the press to task for provoking hysteria and inter-
CIHAI'TK RSKVI' Nfering with the police investigation; but they, along with the experts and thegeneral public, gained their understanding of the Ripper murders throughthe newspapers. However much diverse constituencies intervened to shapethe media's interpretation of the Ripper crisis according to their own politi-cal agendas, they were also compelled by the overallgestaltproduced bythe media.As the property of the entire daily press, the Ripper story represented adifferent kind of media production, with a decidedly more ambiguous po-litical message, than Stead's "Maiden Tribute" or Mrs. Weldon's populistcampaign in defense of the "liberty of the subject." In contrast to these twocauses celebres, media organization of the Ripper story had no defined po-litical center, and women were significantly marginalized from the publictelling of the story. This is not to say that all public interventions carried thesame 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 usedto process into clues. A similar reprocessing occurred in relation to feministand antivivisectionist representations of prostitution and of the sexual dan-ger of medicine. Media coverage of the murders took up the themes and
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