Life in the Ripper’s London

I wrote this blog post close to Halloween, a good time for something scary. Although I like the cute horror of Halloween and a good, over-the-top zombie film, lately I’ve been chasing after some true-life horror as I research the lives of murder victims for my Jack the Ripper Victims Series of novels. As one who has always been intrigued by the dark and disturbing, as a practitioner in the horror genre, a professional writer for almost two decades, and an illustrator for three, the real horror of history and the lessons to be learned from it are what I have drawn my interest lately.

Long ago, when I first learned of Jack the Ripper and the murders associated with the killer, I was, as most everyone is, intrigued by the endless speculation about who he might have been (I use male pronouns when referring to him merely because of the name Jack; although, we don’t know the gender of the Whitechapel Murderer). The more I read about the murders and the various theories, the less interested I was in the killer and the more intrigued I became with the environment in which the murders took place. As I learned more about Victorian London and how rapidly it changed due to the industrial revolution, the more interesting I found the lives of those who lived there at the time. Although I couldn’t learn much about the killer, I could gain some knowledge of the five female victims. Potentially, there are more than five, but those considered canonical victims are Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.

Coroner’s inquests were held to determine the cause of death for each of the women. The inquiries are essentially trials, with juries and witnesses to help make a determination about the manner of a victim’s demise. The verdict in each of the five cases was “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.”

The words, actions, movements, and motivations of each of the women are most clearly known to history closest to the time of their deaths because of the testimony of the witnesses called during the inquests. In some cases, such as that of Elizabeth Stride, the last couple of hours were recounted in detail, and in other cases, such as that of Catherine Eddowes, we have a good idea what she did within several days of her death. The farther we go into the past away from the hour of their deaths, however, the less detailed and the more generalized is the information about them. Within the few years prior to their deaths, all five had suffered real hardship—all had engaged in prostitution to survive, most, if not all, had been active alcoholics, and most had spent time in the dehumanizing workhouse system.

In Victorian England, the Industrial revolution had led to large-scale unemployment, much the way the Tech Revolution has done in America today. Victorian London, much like large American cities today, suffered from overcrowding and large numbers of homeless.

We can see a modern reflection of the victims of Jack the Ripper in the homeless of twenty-first century America. Much of the cause of that homelessness went unseen in Victorian times, as it does now. With the rise in the numbers of the homeless, then as now, people had a tendency to shy away from the problem.

My natural inclination is to avoid knowing why so many people are hungry and without shelter. I want to look away, and I don’t want to look away. My experience is that many people are just as ambivalent. Many of the homeless are intoxicated much of the time or begging for the means to become intoxicated. I can easily become disgusted with the endless need of the addicts among the homeless. I could justify my righteousness by blaming their lack of hygiene, and their crimes of desperation. However, I am a sober alcoholic and expect myself to have compassion for them, even when it doesn’t come naturally. There, but for providence, go I.

Although I avoid those who are clearly intoxicated, on occasion I’ve asked someone begging on the street for their story. Most aren’t good at telling a story, perhaps because they are rarely asked to tell one. Even so, from what they say, I always get the sense that they have had happier times, that they have capabilities, and that they have aspirations involving their own personal interests and those whom they love.

Worse than the surface irritation of having to deal with a person who might be slovenly, dirty, inconvenient, or in-my-face is the emotional stress of considering the plight of an unfortunate person. My immediate response is to want look away. I speak of my experience to take responsibility for my reactions, but I’m not alone. We find it easy to scorn the beggars on the streets and then project that disdain on all homeless people, further isolating them. As a result, the down and out are less likely to find help when in danger. If they are seriously harmed or killed, fewer people step forward to try to find out what happened. Those who prey upon the homeless more easily get away with their crimes. The same was true for the down and out of Victorian London.

What events in the lives of the five Jack the Ripper victims led to their demise on the streets of London? How much of the way they lived was a result of the choices they made? What was beyond their control? Were they chosen at random by their killer, or did he choose them because he knew that fewer people would step forward to find out what happened to them? We don’t have good, solid answers to these questions.

My impression is that their choices had something to do with securing their wellbeing, but much of their existence was beyond their control. The environment of London itself was a danger. Literally hundreds of thousands of Londoners were killed by the pollution in the air, water, and food. New industries popped up everywhere to support the burgeoning population and to exploit the cheap labor market. Small factories occupied converted tenements or houses that once held families in residential neighborhoods. Sometimes, only a part of such a tenement or house was occupied by industry while the rest still functioned as a residence for individuals or families. With an increase in the use of chemistry, and with little knowledge of the damage many chemicals inflicted upon the bodies of those exposed to them, industries, such as match making, destroyed the lives of their workers and those living within close proximity to production. Those who suffered often did so without knowing why until it was too late. Matchmaking is only one example of the industrial poisoning of Londoners. Deadly chemicals were everywhere. They were used in medicines and in prepared foods as preservatives. Madness abounded, if not as a result of the emotional hardships of life, then from chemical damage to the brain.

A life of poverty in London was slowly killing all of the Ripper’s victims. Survival within that environment is the story that intrigues me. Those are lives I can relate to because I see parallels with life in my own time.

Regardless of whether the Ripper’s victims had few opportunities to live better lives or were responsible in large part for their predicaments, their legacy is pitiful and poignant. Not the cute horror of Halloween perhaps or the over-the-top-turned-almost-cartoon horror of slasher and zombie films, the stories of the five women are full of emotional content, conflict, and drama. What happened to the victims of Jack the Ripper is true horror, and in the telling of those tales we are reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I was growing up, my mother had a strange way of watching scary movies on television with the family; she’d stand in the hallway beside the living-room, peeking around the corner at the TV, ready to run away if the film became too scary. Is that the way we as a society treat true horror? We all love a fun scare, but when the suffering becomes too real, we want to run away because it is painful to witness. I suppose I’m saying that if fewer of us looked away, if we had the courage to see, there might be less actual horror in the world. So here’s to remaining in the living-room of life with our eyes wide open.

My Jack the Ripper Victim Series began with the novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, about the life of Catherine Eddowes, released in 2011. The second in the series, Say Anything But Your Prayers, about the life of Elizabeth Stride came out August of 2014. Although the novels are available separately in paperback, they also appear together in one ebook titled Jack the Ripper Victims Series: The Double Event. The third in the series, A Brutal Chill In August, about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, should be released late 2015.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Jack the Ripper Victim Series: The Double Event

TheDoubleEvent_PPandAudio_SmallThe volume, Jack the Ripper Victim Series: The Double Event, consisting of the two novels Say Anything But Your Prayers and Of Thimble and Threat is now available as an ebook and an audio book. Say Anything But Your Prayers is about the life of the third victim, Elizabeth Stride. Of Thimble and Threat is about the life of the fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes.

This post contains examples of illustrations from the two novels, the book trailer, links to articles and quizzes about the life and times of the two victims, and links to sellers of the ebook and audio book.

The Title of the Book—The night of September 30/ October 1, 1888, Jack the Ripper took two lives in the Whitechapel district of London. Elizabeth Stride was killed about 1:00 AM. A ten minute walk away, and less than an hour later, Catherine Eddowes was killed. The next day, a letter known as the Saucy Jacky postcard was received at the Central News Agency. The message was meant to taunt the police and perhaps the entire city. The writer, who signed the postcard Jack the Ripper, referred to the killings of the night before as “The Double Event.”

Since the murderer was never caught, fascination with the unsolved mystery has been widespread and enduring. But what of the women? Who were they? What was life like for them in London of the time period? What were their struggles, their hopes, their regrets? What of the decisions they made in life might have delivered them into the bloody hands of the Ripper? The two novels within this volume, Say Anything But Your Prayers, about the life of Elizabeth Stride, and Of Thimble and Threat, about the life of Catherine Eddowes, give possible answers to these questions.

Here are links to the book at some of the popular ebook sellers (also available elsewhere):

amazon.com (kindle)

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Here’s a link to the audio book edition, read by Alicia Rose.

Audible.com

While both of the novels in the book are available in paperback from Lazy Fascist Press, the only ebook available of Say Anything But Your Prayers is in the Double Event volume. The paperback of Say Anything But Your Prayers is illustrated as is the version in the ebook volume.  The paperback of Of Thimble and Threat is not illustrated, but the version in the ebook volume is. Here are a couple of the illustrations, the first from Say Anything But Your Prayers, and the second from Of Thimble and Threat. Click on the images to enlarge.

AllThatShedNeed_smallStillInItsHidingPlace_small Say Anything But Your Prayers (link to the paperback on amazon.com)
The beast of poverty and disease had stalked Elizabeth all her life, waiting for the right moment to take her down. To survive, she listened to the two extremes within herself–Bess, the innocent child of hope, and Liza, the cynical, hard-bitten opportunist. While Bess paints rosy pictures of what lies ahead and Liza warns of dangers everywhere, the beast, in the guise of a man offering something better, circles closer. Click here to visit

Of Thimble and Threat (link to the paperback on amazon.com)
The story of the intense love between a mother and a child, a story of poverty and loss, fierce independence, and unconquerable will. It is the devastating portrayal of a self-perpetuated descent into Hell, a lucid view into the darkest parts of the human heart.

Bringing  the Victims Back to Life—These are works of fiction, but they require extensive research to get the environment and characters right. For purposes of storytelling, I did not adhered strictly to the victims’ histories, yet followed as closely as I could and still write a successful tale. I have assigned to my main characters emotional characteristics and reactions that are consistent with their time and circumstances.  Wanting to see what the women looked like, and having only mortuary photos to consider, I worked on those old images in photoshop, trying to repair the damage to the womens’ features and breathe a bit of life into them. Below are the results of that effort. The images appear in the two volume ebook. The first is of Elizabeth Stride, and the second is of Catherine Eddowes. Click on the images to enlarge.

ElizabethStrideRevivedCatherineRevived

Look for the 3rd book in the Jack the Ripper Victims Series, A Brital Chill In August, in August of 2016.

Here are links to article’s I’ve written on Ripper related subjects on Saucy Jacky—A Ripper of a Site:

Alan M. Clark – Jack the Ripper, London’s Murder Weapon

Alan M. Clark – The Mysteries of Elizabeth Stride

Below are links to 2 quizzes I created on Goodreads for the book. Test your knowledge of the women who suffered at the hands of Jack the Ripper on the deadly night of Sept. 30/Oct. 1, 1888. The quizzes also have a few question about London of the period. Since the answers are based on history, one can score highly without having read the novels.

Goodreads Quiz
The Double Event Quiz 1
taken
2 times
10 questions

 

Goodreads Quiz

The Double Event Quiz 2
taken 2 times
10 questions

Watch the book trailer.

The Double Event


 

Jack the Ripper terrorized London for several months in the late nineteenth century. The night of September 30, 1888, the murderer took two lives in the Whitechapel district of the city. Elizabeth Stride was killed about 1:00 AM. A ten minute walk away, and less than an hour later, Catherine Eddowes was killed. The next day, October 1, a letter known as the Saucy Jacky postcard was received at the Central News Agency. The message was meant to taunt the police and perhaps the entire city. The writer, who signed the postcard Jack the Ripper, referred to the killings of the night before as “The Double Event.”

The first two novels of my Jack the Ripper Victims Series have been released by Lazy Fascist Press: Of Thimble and Threat (about the life of the 4th victim, Catherine Eddowes), and Say anything but Your Prayers (about the life of the 3rd victim, Elizabeth Stride). This fall, both novels will be released together in one ebook titled Jack the Ripper Victim Series: The Double Event.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

Dilation Exercise 112

Below you’ll find Alan M. Clark’s weekly Dilation Exercise. It uses an illustration from his new novel, Say Anything But Your Prayers, released today by Lazy Fascist Press, and is inspired by the story. Please look at the picture, read the caption, above and below the image, and allow your imagination to go to work on it. This time, since this image and text are a product of a finished work, please don’t elaborate on the story with comments. Need a further explanation about the Dilation Exercises? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

Tears ran down Elizabeth’s cheeks and into her blouse as she took the old woman’s cold, crooked hand into her own.

I might as well have cut her throat, she thought.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “The Old Woman’s Crooked Hand” copyright © 2014 Alan M. Clark. Interior illustration for Say Anything But Your Prayers by Alan M. Clark – Lazy Fascist Press.

Dilation Exercise 111

Below you’ll find Alan M. Clark’s weekly Dilation Exercise. It uses an illustration from his new novel, Say Anything But Your Prayers, released today by Lazy Fascist Press, and is inspired by the story. Please look at the picture, read the caption, above and below the image, and allow your imagination to go to work on it. This time, since this image and text are a product of a finished work, please don’t elaborate on the story with comments. Need a further explanation about the Dilation Exercises? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

Since escaping the life in which she’d pleased little but desperate toads and vindictive cuckolds, Elizabeth was happy that her new lover, Policeman Winders, didn’t treat her like a dirty puzzle.

For the first time, sex was a tender, loving act, which made it all the more shocking that their relationship should end in violence.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “No Parting Words” copyright © 2014 Alan M. Clark. Interior illustration for Say Anything But Your Prayers by Alan M. Clark – Lazy Fascist Press.

Dilation Exercise 110

Below you’ll find Alan M. Clark’s weekly Dilation Exercise. Please look at the picture, read the caption, above and below the image, and allow your imagination to go to work on it. If the artwork inspires an idea, please use the comment feature to tell us something about it. Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

When I was younger, drinking was the way to relax and have a bit of fun with my friends.

But what’s happened to everyone now, and who’s the guy that keeps staring at me?

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “Taverns of the Dead” copyright © 2003 Alan M. Clark. Cover illustration for Taverns of the Dead edited by Kealan Patrick Burke – Cemetery Dance Publications.

Dilation Exercise 109

Below you’ll find Alan M. Clark’s weekly Dilation Exercise. Please look at the picture, read the caption, above and below the image, and allow your imagination to go to work on it. If the artwork inspires an idea, please use the comment feature to tell us something about it. Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

Alister understood enough Morse code to know he was hearing only half a conversation.

Each time the old wisteria branch paused, he wondered who was responding to its tapping.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon

If you like Alan M. Clark’s artwork, please try his writing in both short fiction and novels.

Artwork: “Branch in the Wind” copyright © 2000 Alan M. Clark. Interior illustration for Flaming Arrows by Bruce Holland Rogers – IFD Publishing.