Historical Terror—Horror that Happened

Interior illustration for JACK THE RIPPER VICTIMS SERIES: THE DOUBLE EVENT

What Were They Thinking? How could the people of Jonestown drink the cyanide laced Kool-Aid? How could Jim Jones ask them to do it?

How did Marine Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr. decide to fall on a grenade during fighting in Bougainville in WWII? Surely, he didn’t do it for the posthumously awarded Medal of Honor. No doubt he did it to save his fellow soldiers, but that’s a pat answer that leaves out all but the barest glimpse of the emotions involved. When it’s difficult to put myself into the shoes of the people making these sorts of mind-blowing decisions, their choices can become a fascination for me.

This post was originally developed as a presentation about writing historical fiction for the WordCrafters in Eugene writers’ conference under the title “What were They Thinking: The Drama Available in History.” The driving force of human emotion can be quite mysterious when we’re not present to see it in action. If the emotional context is missing, I am frequently befuddled by the decisions of my fellow human beings. History is filled with dramatic events that involve momentous and pivotal choices, some heroic, some dastardly, taken by human beings under great emotional strain. Those situations that ended in tragedy were often a result of decisions made, often hastily, based on a poor selection of choices, none of them good, or in the pursuit of a desperate agenda. Those that ended well often resulted from a persistent hope, faith, love, or just dumb luck.

Here are some of the types of choices human beings make that are difficult for me to understand on the surface.

1) Suicide (sometimes there’s no explanation left behind).
2) Maintaining relationships with those who are emotionally difficult, abusive, or dangerous.
3) Engaging in activities that are known to easily lead to addictions.
4) Unusual risk-taking or other self-destructive tendencies (sometimes referred to as a death wish).
5) Self sacrifice (a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others).
6) Courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
7) Striking out for the unknown with little but hope to sustain the effort (Christopher Columbus comes to mind).
8) Acting on intuition alone (trusting oneself to anticipate something of great import).
9) Willingness to pursue a course despite the obvious pain endured or caused to others.
10) Unwillingness to consider anything but one’s own agenda or beliefs in the face of obvious reality (Hitler comes to mind).
11) Collective belief systems that seem obviously harmful to others (South African Apartheid comes to mind).
12) Falling in love with highly flawed, even destructive individuals.
13) Hating individuals for reasons that seem to have little depth.
14) Scapegoatism.

For this paper, I’ll refer to these quirks of human decision-making as “fascinating choices.” Most of the choices seem unreasonable on the surface, so why should I trouble myself to understand? I’ve certainly made some weird, even bone-headed decisions in my life, but then, I know why, at least most of the time. If hindsight is 20 20, I should be able to evaluate others’ fascinating choices objectively, right? Of course not. If there’s no record left behind of what the actors involved were thinking and feeling, a lot of information is missing. Should I dismiss my astonishment with the notions that those who made the fascinating choices were insane, ill-informed, or merely bad at decision-making, some lucky and some unlucky? No! I think the fact that I’m left scratching my head in wonder is an indication that something particularly human and emotionally complex has occurred in these situations, something that holds great drama. Sometimes, we have the pat answer—he gave his life to save his fellow soldiers—but that doesn’t satisfy my curiosity. Was he motivated by patriotic fervor or was it a special relationship with those particular men that motivated him? If the latter, what events led to such strong feeling?

HistoricalFictionI’ve written five historical fiction novels in an effort to explore how certain seemingly unreasonable choices, or, as I’ve called them, fascinating choices, became reasonable for those who made them.

Three of the novels are part of my Jack the Ripper Victims Series. Of Thimble and Threat, about the life of Catherine Eddowes, and Say Anything But Your Prayer, about the life of Elizabeth Stride have been released. A Brutal Chill in August, about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, has not been released yet. Of Thimble and Threat and Say Anything But Your Prayers are available separately, but they’re also published together in the ebook volume Jack the Ripper Victims Series: The Double Event. All three novels are inspired by my fascination with what seems unreasonable choices on the part of the women involved. Surely, all three knew about the dangers hidden in a Whitechapel, London night. Since the Ripper killings had already begun and were widely reported, Eddowes and Stride would have been well-aware that a murderer stalked the city looking for victims, yet they were willing to stagger drunken along the streets at night, looking for strangers to pay them for sex. What sort of desperation leads one to take such risks to earn a crust? What level of disregard for oneself is required to allow that kind of vulnerability? People don’t set out in life to become drunkards and prostitutes, so what in their lives led to such a fall from grace? These are a few of the questions I’ve addressed in the novels. There being five canonical victims, I have two more novels to write for the series.

A Parliament of Crows is my historical fiction novel about the Wardlaw sisters (I changed their name to Mortlow in the novel). The sisters were the daughters of a

Cover art for A PARLIAMENT OF CROWS

Supreme Court Justice of South Carolina. They were born in the 1840s and ‘50s, and would have been teens during the Civil War. After the war, they stuck together. Though two married and had children, the sisters most often lived with each other, and apart from their families. They took positions in women’s colleges, teaching primarily social graces, and bilked those institutions of funds. Mourning clothes, including veils, seemed to be their perennial dress. They had homes in 3 or 4 states of the United States. The houses and apartments had virtually no furnishings. Taking out insurance policies on certain of their children, the sisters did them in for the payouts. The media circus of their trail at the beginning of the 20th century was only rivaled by that of Lizzy Borden’s almost a half century earlier. As they awaited trial, one went insane and was institutionalized, and one starved herself to death. I wanted to know how they saw the life they led as reasonable. How could it be? I had a lot of fun with that one.

Interior illustration for THE DOOR THAT FACED WEST

Finally, there’s The Door That Faced West, which involves dreadful events from early Tennessee and Kentucky history.

I am from Tennessee, and learning about my State’s history when younger, I happened upon the tale of Big and Little Harpe. They are consider some of the earliest serial or spree killers in America, having committed their crimes around the year 1800. As land pirates, they haunted the trails in what was at the time the frontier territory of the new states of Tennessee and Kentucky, robbing and killing to earn a living. They had three wives who traveled with them. Life on the trail was tough, but being wanted, the men had little choice but to keep moving, and the women went with them. One of the wives, Sally Rice, was a minister’s daughter. What we know of the young woman from history is that she traveled the wilderness trails with the Harpes and was witness to terrible violence. The Harpes killed virtually everyone they robbed, at least fifty human beings. At one point, as the outlaws attempted to escape the law, the wives became separated from them. Instead of escaping the frightful life on the trail and seeking asylum in the nearest settlement, the three women traveled one hundred and eighty miles through the wilderness to the agreed-upon rendezvous point to be reunited with the Harpes. They really wanted to be with those guys!

When the wives were finally separated from the men for the last time, Sally Rice, the minister’s daughter, remarried, settled down, had children, and lived out her life in an unremarkable, seemingly normal fashion. That is virtually all history tells us about her. As far as we know she committed no violence herself, yet she had a role in terrible events, a witness at bare minimum.

I wanted to know what she was thinking. How had that life become reasonable? What sort of emotional gymnastics were necessary for her to live with herself? Having come from what people of the time considered a good, spiritual background, why would she endure the hardships of life on the trail with the horrible Harpes? How could she go on with a peaceful life after witnessing and benefitting from their most terrible deeds? What of regret, guilt, and shame did she experience or was she secretly filled with glee for what she’d seen and done? The possibility exists that she felt both extremes.

I wrote The Door that Faced West to explore through character and story development the emotional evolution of one who found herself in such a state of affairs. Adding up what’s known about the circumstances in her story provided me with some indication of the emotions experienced by those involved. Also helpful was knowing something about the environment in which those feelings emerged, the religious, political, and social beliefs and pressures of the time and place. Creating the characters to move through that environment and make the decisions that we know about helped me to understand. Once my characters were well-developed, I could see what rang true in their fascinating choices.

Inevitably, as I try to dramatize such events, I’ll get them wrong. I can only fictionalize, and, in the end, the telling of a good story has to be the priority, not telling the truth. I cannot know what people said or felt unless they expressed it somehow. Even then, their expressions may not hold the full truth. Still, the drama hinges most soundly on the fascinating choices. History as presented isn’t always the truth, but generally speaking, these choices are pivotal moments in time, after which things have changed. All evidence points to the fact that Marine Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr. did indeed purposely fall on that grenade. Afterward, he was dead and his fellow soldiers were still alive, and they knew why. Jim Jones didn’t have enough enforcers to compel all those people in Jonestown to drink the Kool-Aid. They willingly decided to die just because he asked them to.

What I get out of writing such a novel may not be an accurate portrayal of events, but I certainly find good drama and an answer to the question of how one might reasonably arrive at the fascinating choices in question. The writing itself is an incredible adventure of discovery.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

Professionals Praise OF THIMBLE AND THREAT: THE LIFE OF A RIPPER VICTIM

“I cracked into Alan Clark’s Of Thimble and Threat, expecting to read a chapter or two. Instead, I read the book in a single sitting, drawn in at first by the ingenious form, but kept enraptured by the characters’ humanity and overwhelming sense of verisimilitude. Of Thimble and Threat is no sanitized Victorian Disneyland; it gets right the struggles of the ordinary people of the era, the toxic environs in which they lived (and died), the backbreaking labor conditions, and the laudanum and alcohol-soaked temptations of an age that has been described as the Great Binge. My complements to the author.”

—Ross E. Lockhart, Managing Editor of Nightshade Books

“Author and artist Alan Clark is a master of creating beautiful and frightening things. His writing and his art alike are skillful, moving and nasty in turns. In Of Thimble and Threat, he explores the life of a Ripper victim, a life cut short by violence and marred by poverty. If you know somebody that reads historical fiction, give them the good stuff.”

—Garrett Cook, author of the Murderland series and Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective

“Of Thimble and Threat” carried me into the emotional life of a Victorian woman at risk, let me live her dreams and losses, and even surprised me when Catherine met her inevitable death at the hands of The Ripper. Brilliant!

—Eric M. Witchey, award-winning writer and author of Beyond the Serpent’s Heart

Of Thimble and Threat is a terrifically absorbing read. A mature novel and superbly researched. The image of silver in the blood was woven expertly and made the ending luminous and poignant.”

—Simon Clark, author of Vampyrrhic

“In telling the story of the life of Catherine Eddowes, Clark has written one of the most original and effective novels of Ripper lore in quite some time. The fascinating story revolves around the list of items and clothing that was found on Kate when she was murdered; starting as a thirteen-year-old, and ending with her sad and violent death at the hands of the Ripper at age forty-six, we learn the provenance of each of these times. Clark weaves a partly fictional tale of Kate’s life within this concept, but it’s clear he has done a great lot of research, and as a result both Catherine Eddowes’s past and Victorian-era London in general come to life in vivid detail. Of Thimble and Threat reminds us that for all the mystery surrounding the Ripper’s identity, for all the violence and myth, the women who died at the hands of the Whitechapel Murderer were human beings. And that should never be forgotten. This novel is highly recommended.”

Brett McBean, author of Neighbourhood Jungle and The Last Motel

“Books and movies rarely make me cry, but by the end of Alan M. Clark’s Of Thimble and Threat, I was bawling. In terms of scope and power, this novel feels more akin to Dostoevsky and other heavyweights of Russian literature than any contemporary novel I’ve encountered. Clark draws you into the life and plight of Catherine Eddowes, the third Jack the Ripper victim. However, this is not a novel about Jack the Ripper. This is a novel about one woman and her life in bleak-ass Victorian London. Following Catherine Eddowes from childhood to death, you will fall in love with her even as she plummets down a dark path that inevitably results in self-destruction and unbearable pain for her loved ones. This book swells with so much emotion and is so brilliantly constructed that all I can really say is this: Read it, folks. Read it for good writing. Read it for entertainment. Read it to be a better person. Read it for any reason at all. Whatever your motives, do not miss this book. It’s important.”

—Cameron Pierce, Managing Editor of Lazy Fascist Press

Of Thimble and Threat is the unexpected tale of an ordinary woman, told by an extraordinary writer.”

—Elizabeth Engstrom, author of Lizzie Borden and York’s Moon

Of Thimble and Threat is an wonderful little novel that conjures up the real Victorian London. No gleaming steampunk set-pieces are found within its pages, no storylines glorifying well-dressed gentlefolk with their brushed suits, parlor drama, and manicured carriages. Instead, Of Thimble and Threat unflinchingly depicts what life was like for the poor and forgettable in filthy post-Industrial Revolution London, a heartbreaking backdrop indeed for the story of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper.

“Clark recreates Eddowes’ life in stunning detail, and the detail is not always pretty. The real Eddowes was not, of course, the plucky heroine of a novel, and to his credit, Clark does not try to make her into one. Instead he gives us a real person, a woman with flaws, whose wants that aren’t always wise or sensible; whose actions are not always admirable. Because Clark gives us such an honest portrait of her, her life, and inevitable death, are that much more tragic: When she dies, it is no stage death. Catherine Eddowes was real, and Clark masterfully brings her back–only to snatch her away again.”

—Molly Tanzer, Managing Editor of Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine.

Dilation Exercise 43

In an effort to further promote my new novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, released by Lazy Fascist Press, my Dilation Exercise for today is based on a Jack the Ripper illustration I did many years ago.

I’ve brought in a guest trainer, Randy Fox, for this week’s Dilation Exercise. His captions, seen with the image below, first appeared with the painting in a slide show of my artwork that he and another friend, Peteso, helped me work up to show at SF and Fantasy conventions back in the 1990s. The slide show was called “Dexter’s Funny World.” It breaks my Dilation Exercise rule of limiting the text to two lines, but rules are made to be broken. Randy expanded his caption into a short story, titled “Dexter’s Great Adventure,” that appeared in More Phobias, edited by Wendy Webb, Richard Gilliam, Edward E. Kramer and Martin Greenberg — Pocket Books Horror 1995.

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 a story, please say something about it in a comment. Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

His hobby of people-watching was made all the more difficult by his fear of looking directly at them. After much though, he had solved the problem by always carrying some kind of reflective surface with him.

In the case of the butcher knife, that new dish detergent had really made a difference. During his late night constitutional he could watch everyone around him, and no one would suspect a thing. People were sure acting funny tonight, though. But that was the whole reason he liked to watch them. People were just doggone strange.

Artwork: “Shadow Games” copyright © 1993 Alan M. Clark.
Cover illustration for Shadow Games, by Ed Gorman, published by Cemetery Dance Publication. Captions seen here are original to this post and have nothing to do with the literary project with which the artwork first appeared.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

Dilation Exercise 42

In an effort to further promote my new novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, released by Lazy Fascist Press, my Dilation Exercise for today is based on a Jack the Ripper illustration I did many years ago. 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 a story, please say something about it in a comment. Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

That he couldn’t save her with the tools he possessed was maddening, but then what he believed to be redemption would never be a part of her world.

What he’d never understand was that, considering the world as she knew it, he had indeed saved her.

Artwork: “A Host of Shadows End-Marker” copyright © 2001 Alan M. Clark.
Interior Illustration for Escaping Purgatory: Fables in Words and Pictures, by Gary A. Braunbeck and Alan M. Clark, published by IFD Publishing. An illustration to the short story, “A Host of Shadows,” about what became of Jack the Ripper, coauthored by Alan M. Clark and Gary A. Braunbeck. Captions seen here are original to this post and have nothing to do with the literary project with which the artwork first appeared.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

Dilation Exercise 41

In order to promote my new novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim, released by Lazy Fascist Press, my Dilation Exercise for today is based on a Jack the Ripper illustration I did many years ago. 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 a story, please say something about it in a comment. Need a further explanation? Go to Imagination Workout—The Dilation Exercises.

Because the shadow cast by the murder was said to fall upon the wall at odd hours, some genius at Town Hall decided that walking tours would bring the city much needed revenue during the recession.

Business was brisk at first, but with all the extra attention, the shadow’s appearance became more regular, new stains began to appear on the brick work and tourists started to go missing.

Artwork: “A Host of Shadows #2” copyright © 2000 Alan M. Clark.
Interior Illustration for Escaping Purgatory: Fables in Words and Pictures, by Gary A. Braunbeck and Alan M. Clark, published by IFD Publishing. It is an illustration to the short story, “A Host of Shadows,” about what became of Jack the Ripper, coauthored by Alan m. Clark and Gary A. Braunbeck. Captions seen here are original to this post and have nothing to do with the literary project with which the artwork first appeared.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

Of Thimble and Threat, by Alan M. Clark

Of Thimble and Threat  is a novel inspired by the life of Catherine Eddowes, a woman believed to be the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper.

I first became interested in the life of Catherine Eddowes after reading the police report about her murder, particularly the part that listed her articles of clothing and the possessions found on her person at the time of her death.  Here’s the list from the police report:

Clothing
• Black straw bonnet trimmed in green and black velvet with black beads. Black strings, worn tied to the head.
• Black cloth jacket trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur and around the pockets in black silk braid and fur. Large metal buttons.
• Dark green chintz skirt, 3 flounces, brown button on waistband. The skirt is patterned with Michaelmas daisies and golden lilies.
• Man’s white vest, matching buttons down front.
• Brown linsey bodice, black velvet collar with brown buttons down front
• Grey stuff petticoat with white waistband
• Very old green alpaca skirt (worn as undergarment)
• Very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces, light twill lining (worn as undergarment)
• White calico chemise
• No drawers or stays
• Pair of men’s lace up boots, mohair laces. Right boot repaired with red thread
• 1 piece of red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief
• 1 large white pocket handkerchief
• 1 large white cotton handkerchief with red and white bird’s eye border
• 2 unbleached calico pockets, tape strings
• 1 blue stripe bed ticking pocket
• Brown ribbed knee stockings, darned at the feet with white cotton

Possessions
• 2 small blue bags made of bed ticking
• 2 short black clay pipes
• 1 tin box containing tea
• 1 tin box containing sugar
• 1 tin matchbox, empty
• 12 pieces white rag, some slightly bloodstained
• 1 piece coarse linen, white
• 1 piece of blue and white shirting, 3 cornered
• 1 piece red flannel with pins and needles
• 6 pieces soap
• 1 small tooth comb
• 1 white handle table knife
• 1 metal teaspoon
• 1 red leather cigarette case with white metal fittings
• 1 ball hemp
• 1 piece of old white apron with repair
• Several buttons and a thimble
• Mustard tin containing two pawn tickets, One in the name of Emily Birrell, 52 White’s Row, dated August 31, 9d for a man’s flannel shirt. The other is in the name of Jane Kelly of 6 Dorset Street and dated September 28, 2S for a pair of men’s boots. Both addresses are false.
• Printed handbill and according to a press report- a printed card for ‘Frank Carter,305,Bethnal Green Road
• Portion of a pair of spectacles
• 1 red mitten

Catherine Eddowes had spent each of the two nights before the night of her death in a different casual ward.  The casual wards were part of the workhouse system, a place for the transient, the ill, or those known to be criminals to receive temporary shelter in what was considered at the time to be appalling conditions.  Like many of the homeless today, she was wearing many layers of clothing.  She carried over fifty personal items.  It is likely she had everything she owned on her person.

With a sense of what her time and circumstances were, I found this pitiful list more compelling than anything I’ve read about Jack the Ripper, and I had the idea of seeing in a work of fiction how all those possessions and clothing came to her.   Our possessions say a lot about who we are, and hers spoke to me about a hard-scrabble life and a desperation—not without hope—that made for good storytelling.

The story begins when she is thirteen years old and concludes at her tragic death at the hands of, what they might have called at the time, a fiend.  We don’t say fiend much anymore.  We don’t call the Green River Killer or BTK a fiend.  It just sounds weak in the light of what we know about them.  But that was strong language to describe a killer in Victorian London.  I use it here to make a point—if I was going to transport readers to that time and give them a reasonable taste of what her life was like, I’d have to get the atmospherics right.

I would not be inventing her life out of whole cloth (an old expression that fits the theme of the story well) since there was much information about Catherine Eddowes, but to build the world in which she lived, Victorian England, I would have to commit to extensive research.  The thought of it was so daunting, it took me over 15 years and finally a request by Cameron Pierce to write a novel for Lazy Fascist Press before I would seriously consider it.

Here are some interesting things I discovered about Catherine Eddowes:

• Her first common-law husband, a man named Conway, wrote gallows ballads and was a chapman.  Catherine worked at this business with him and most likely contributed to the writing of the ballads.  They made a living attending public executions where they sold their chapbooks for a penny apiece.  These were composed of several broad sheets folded together that included a ballad and other written material about the life, the crime and trial of the criminal being executed.  They did this at the execution of Catherine’s cousin, a murderer named Robinson.

• She went to the infirmary at the Work House to give birth to her children.

• While living with a man named Kelly, one of Catherine’s aliases was Mary Ann Kelly, an alias also used by the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Jane Kelly.

• Two days before her murder, Catherine told friends she knew the murderer and would turn him in for the reward.

• The night of her murder, Catherine was arrested for public drunkenness and held in a cell where she slept for several hours.  When she awoke, she said she could take care of herself and begged to be released.  The police would not let her go without knowing her name.  She gave it as Mary Ann Kelly.  Within an hour of her release, she was found dead.

Here are some interesting slang expressions from Victorian London that I used in the novel:
• Cuttie or Nose Warmer—short pipe, mostly smoked by women.
• Billy—silk handkerchief.
• Bludger—violent criminal.
• Dollymop—amateur prostitute.
• Fakement—pretense for begging.
• Flag—an apron.
• Glock—half-wit.
• Gulpy—gullible, easily duped.
• Haybag—woman.
• Lump Hotel—Work House
• Lumper—dock worker.
• Lushington—a drunkard.
• Mumper—beggar
• Muck Snipe—someone “down and out”
• Patterer—someone who has hawks using a recited sales pitch.
• Prater—conman preacher.
• Rookery—slum.
• Square rigged—soberly dressed.

Here are some interesting things I discovered about Victorian London and British culture:
• London Particular—A mix of pollution and fog, sometimes called pea soup fog for its yellow color, resulting from the extensive use of coal during the industrial revolution in England.  The British government in recent years has admitted that the killer fog was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens.
• The Great Stink—A time in London, during the summer of 1858, when the amount of waste entering the Thames and hot weather combined to create a miasma so potent it nearly shut down the government and brought the city to a halt.  Those who could afford to do so evacuated the city.
Phosphorism—A disease that was common among matchmaker (those who labored in match factories).  Handling the chemicals used in the production of matches inflicted upon the laborer damage to the teeth and jaw, often resulting in the loss of some or all of the teeth and occasionally requiring the removal of the jaw bone.
• Godfrey’s Cordial—An opium and alcohol elixir used to keep toddles and infants quiet.
• Various Scavengers—Mudlarks (children who scavenge the river Thames, looking for anything of value), Toshers (those who scavenge in the sewers, often children), Bone Grubbers (those who collect bones to sell, either asking for them door to door or scavenging for them along the river).
• Night Soil Men—Those who muck out cesspits, the receptacles of human bodily waste in the basements of tenements and private homes.
• Pig Wash—Primarily the leftovers of a middle class to wealthy household, food that has been to the table too many times and has gone bad or is close to it.  The rejected food is given to those in service to the household who have requested and been granted Pig Wash.
• Broxy—the meat of diseased sheep—a cheap source of meat for the poor.
• All Sorts—a drink composed of all the drinks abandoned on tables at a pub, gathered up by the barman or barmaids, and mixed together—a cheap source of alcohol for the poor.

In writing Of Thimble and Threat, my effort was not to create a character we would relate to as one from our time, but one whose words and actions were shaped by her environment and circumstances and whose driving emotions were seen as reasonable within that context. Victorian England, with it’s social structure, polluted environment, the quality of sustenance for its people, labor conditions, the state of scientific and medical knowledge in that period, the prevalence and pervasiveness of disease and the seeming ease with which people became ill and slipped quickly into death, was a very different world from the one in which I live.  All these elements combined to create quite different priorities and concerns for the people of that time and place from what most of us experience today.  The average person was most likely much more aware of mortality day to day since something as simple as a cut on the finger could easily become infected and lead to death.  Choosing an occupation—if one were lucky enough to have a choice—was to choose between compromising one or another aspects of one’s health.

That’s not to say we don’t have these concerns today, but time and experience has led to systems which mitigate much of the extremes seen in Victorian London.  Human beings haven’t truly changed—we experience the same emotions we always have.  The stimulus for those emotions is what changes from environment to environment, generation to generation.  We would certainly relate to those of another time, but having a conversation with someone from the 1800s would be an interesting and singular experience for someone today.

The possessions of Catherine Eddowes started that conversation with me, providing a glimpse of her priorities and concerns, and Of Thimble and Threat is my response.

—Alan M. Clark
Eugene, Oregon