Otherness in the Victorian Gothic: The Perception of Crime and Foreignness in 1880s London’s East End Scott Abel

As Boyer pulled aside the muslin curtains of Room 13 at Number 23 Dorset Street of Spitalfields, he discovered the disfigured and naked body of Mary Kelly who her killer slashed open resting her bloodied breasts, dripping intestines, and rotting liver on a table as if they were the murder’s playtime toys. The focal-point of fiendish slaughterer’s masterpiece was the emptied yet mangled corpse of the victim lying on her blood-stained bed.1 How could any human being, nevertheless an Englishman, commit such ghastly horrors as the Whitechapel murders of 1888? To many Britons, a foreign-born megalomaniac or merely a man of non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicity slaughtered multiple women in London’s East End. The ensuing response to the killings often blamed ethnic minorities or foreigners, overtly and subtly, including Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and other non-English individuals for the crimes committed in the East End. More than one hundred years after the final victim died historians Judith Walkowitz and Drew Gray examined the social and cultural context of crime during the late 19th century with focuses on the unfair perceptions of women and the working class of London. The historians examined the hysteria regarding the “Jack the Ripper” murders as directed falsely against of non-English residents within a cultural and social context. The irrational blaming of perceived foreigners exemplified British xenophobia that distracted the British public from the actual causes of crime in the East End such as the immense poverty and overcrowding experienced by its inhabitants.


“Another Whitechapel Murder,” The Times, November 10, 1888, page 7.


The Jack the Ripper murders of Whitechapel in 1888 horrified London’s East End as the mysterious butcher eluded the Metropolitan police while carrying out his vicious attacks on sex workers. The serial killer slit the throat of his first generally accepted murder victim, Polly Nichols on August 31, 1888 and then Annie Chapman on September 8, 1888. He slaughtered both Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30, displaying considerable skill through his navigation the streets of Whitechapel, removing some of the latter victim’s organs, and all while evading police. The finale of the Whitechapel murders was the gruesome murder and mutilation of Mary Kelly. Even shortly after the last murder, tourists visited the murder scenes, but ultimately fear spread throughout the community as the murders puzzled police.2 The unsolved murders exacerbated social and ethnic tensions within the East End through the fear and paranoia of it inhabitants. Judith Walkowitz contextualized the Jack the Ripper murders within narratives of sexual danger that reinforced patriarchal tendencies of Victorian society. The murders fell directly into the dark fantasies of the Victorian gothic imagination that played out daily from the penny presses such as William T. Stead’s Pall Mall Gazette. The penny presses marginalized women in Victorian society even further as curiosity over the assailant’s identity trumped concern for the victims or the safety of potential victims.3 The press coverage depicted the East End, notably from outside its boundaries, as practically foreign with vast numbers of immigrants dwelling in its crime-infested alleys. Middle-class watchers of the East End viewed it as teeming with Jews from Eastern Europe throughout the 1880s. According to the same perspective, many of its residents
2 3

Drew Gray, London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City, (London: Continuum, 2010), 43-46. Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 191-192.


survived through a life of crime, which made the East End, particularly Whitechapel the byproduct of immorality that excited and frightened London’s wealthier inhabitants.4 Walkowitz placed the general middle classes’ perception of foreignness and criminality side-by-side as a means for reinforcing patriarchy through the protection of women from the immoral foreigners. The perceived foreignness and immoral filth of the East End throughout the middle classes distracted the general public from addressing the root causes of crime or alleviating suffering. Rather, the stigmatization of the East End spread beyond the mere territoriality to the residents themselves, especially the victims of the murderer. Their deaths symbolized of the immorality, particularly prostitution that made their demise almost righteous. The Victorian-era reformers, including Josephine Butler and William Stead misunderstood the nature of the crisis following a paradigm that judged the victims negatively. The depiction of Jack the Ripper as a deviant filled the gothic fantasies and sexual imagination of Stead’s writers and readers searching for meaning out of the horror.5 Walkowitz analyzed the media response, particularly from the middle classes’ perspective as employing the narrative of murder and mayhem for voyeurism and moral judgment rather than any real attempt to fix the poverty of the East End. Walkowitz examined police and popular reaction to the murders in Whitechapel within the context of the hysteria and fear, particularly in regard to those deemed foreign. The criminal investigation revealed the prejudices of British society, particularly London’s police and residents in the 1880s. The police, local daily newspapers, and vigilantes focused on Jews from Eastern Europe as potential assailants. The Pall Mall

4 5

Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, 193. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, 194-201.


Gazette indentified the murder as Jewish or of Jewish descent with only the minimal amount of evidence to support of such a claim and then proclaimed that their narratives were merely fiction or speculation. The Star accused John Pizer of Annie Chapman’s murder and without any actual physical evidence. Pizer vindicated himself after the press slandered his name. The false accusations resulted in the indiscriminate robbing and beating of Jews. “Lipski” became an epithet against Jews as the name of a convicted man for the murder of his landlady in 1887. Even after investigators discredited evidence that Jack the Ripper was Jewish, locals and police still assumed the murderer was Jewish, Regardless of a lack of proof for anti-Jewish activity, mobs rioted against Jews in response to the murders.6 East Enders blamed the Jewish community as a whole for hiding the culprit while the local newspapers spurred them on through the old prejudices against Jews and foreigners in general. The prejudices against Jews and non-ethnic English existed in the more prosperous communities, too as they suspected them of radicalism and challenging the existing order. The Times published a suggestion that a Jewish man killed his victims as atonement for their intimacy, which earned criticism from the Anglo-Jewish community for spreading baseless allegations. People within the elite and middle class from the West End feared the possibility of Jewish socialists and zealots spreading dangerous ideas. The police eventually realized the folly and cost of focusing on the Jewish community as a drain on resources only after losing precious time. Anti-Semitic beliefs rose with the discovery of victims bodies outside buildings associated with Jews.7 AntiSemitism often prevailed within British institutions, which promoted the concept of

6 7

Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, 202-204. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, 204.


foreigners as criminals and distracted potential reformers from poverty as a cause of crime. The Times, a London newspaper, reinforced anti-Semitic and anti-foreign attitudes of the population through inflammatory language that spurred further distrust in the latter groups and hysteria in the former. The Times spread the notion of a serial killer without significant evidence that certain murders were connected by connecting the murder of Mary Ann Nichols to the deaths of Martha Turner and another unnamed victim. The article stressed the nature of the crime as sudden and the victim as without enemies, which meant that the criminal struck her without personal vindictiveness reinforcing the apparent randomness of the killings.8 In the murder of Annie Chapman, The Times speculated her seizure as “Judas-like,”9 which linked the Jewish community to the murders through inflammatory language. The Times mentioned the detention of John Pizer in the suspicion of Chapman’s murder because he reportedly wore a leather apron. Emanuel Voilenia, a half-Spanish and half-Bulgarian migrant reported seeing a man make death threats against a woman he identified as Pizer from a group of mostly “Jews” brought into a police yard. However, Voilenia failed to identify Chapman’s body as the woman he saw resulting in Pizer’s released.10 The Times associated the Whitechapel murders and the community itself with a sense of foreignness by depicting the witnesses, suspects, and even other people in the investigation as not ethnically Anglo-Saxon. The Times stoked fears of immigrants by neighbors in the East End through naming foreignsoundings suspects in the investigation.

8 9

“The Whitechapel Murder,” The Times, September 3, 1888, page 12. “The Whitechapel Murder,” The Times, September 27, 1888, page 5. 10 “The Whitechapel Murder,” The Times, September 12, 1888, page 6.


Drew Gray focused attention on the East End and the people living within its boundaries through a social and cultural examination. Gray focused particular attention on the Jewish community of London’s East End in relation to the rest of London’s population as a community vulnerable to the prejudices of other groups. During the late 19th century, unfavorable in conditions in Eastern Europe prompted the emigration of many people to Great Britain resulting in 100,638 Russian and Romanian immigrants living in England and Wales according to the 1871 census.11 The czars of Russia persecuted Jews living within their territory prompting migrations to other locations such as London, England where national policy avoided direct persecution. The presence of a Jewish immigrant community in the East End attracted more immigrants because of their cultural and linguistic similarities, along with the possibility of employment by Jewishowned enterprises. Despite the established presences of a Jewish community, a majority of immigrants lived in dire poverty and found undesirable work for their survival.12 The Jewish community in the East End was vulnerable to isolation from the rest of the city because of their distinct culture and deep poverty. The broader British society often regarded Jewish community’s cultural distinctness with suspicion during the late nineteenth century as part of mistrust toward foreigners. In 1887, E. W. Robinson of The Graphic associated the Jewish community with sailors armed with knives as part of a larger nondescript group of dangerous people living in the East End. The British middle class represented poor Jews negatively across the board as greedy money-lenders and criminals based on reinvented medieval antiSemitism. Even the creator of Peter Rabbit, Beatrice Potter looked down upon Jews as

11 12

Gray, London’s Shadows, 69. Gray, London’s Shadows, 70, 72.


profit-seeking gamblers, despite living in an era of rife with greed. 13 Arnold White stereotyped Jews of the East End as filthy, but his argument fell apart when Member of Parliament Sir Samuel Montagu showed the importance of ritual cleanliness within that community. White also published a pamphlet in 1886 demanding restriction on immigration, while the Pall Mall Gazette blamed Jewish migrants as a bigger factor than all others for the poverty in the East End by pushing down wages.14 The Pall Mall Gazette attempted the creation of a sectarian division with the East End through blaming Jews for social ills to keep the neighborhood divided. Anti-Semitism was prevalent throughout the wealthier neighborhoods of Great Britain, which often perceived the Jewish community as criminal within the larger context of suspicion toward the nonEnglish ethnicities and a factor in the creation of poverty. The Jack the Ripper murders exposed the vulnerability of the Jewish community to people looking for scapegoats because of their cultural differences and the location of the community within the East End. The perception of foreignness by Londoners of Jews and other ethnicities regardless of their nationality led to common mistreatment. During the height of the fear during the murders, violence against Jews became more common as people desired an outlet for their vulnerability.15 The last known people to witness the victims Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30, 1888 were Jewish, possibly witnessing the murderer himself on both occasions. Lewis Diemschutz discovered the murdered body of Elizabeth Stride moments after her death narrowly missing the murder itself.16 Police Constable Long found a piece of apron later identified as belonging to Eddowes slightly before 3 a.m. with “Juwes are men who will not be
13 14

Gray, London’s Shadows, 63-66. Gray, London’s Shadows, 66-68. 15 Gray, London’s Shadows, 71. 16 Gray, London’s Shadows, 41-44.


blamed for nothing” written in chalk above it. Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren ordered the message erased before the incitement of anti-Semitic riots.17 Members of the general public drew connections between the investigation and the Jewish community emphasizing, possibly including the assailant himself, the imaginary threats of the EastEnd Jews. Warren realizing the possible consequences if more Jewish-related material reached the presses, ordered the destruction of the evidence for the sake of the East End Jewish community. Gray established in London’s Shadows that the poverty experienced in the East End and the glamour of the West End revealed the social disparity of Victorian society. The social disparity powered the engine of progress for Great Britain’s prosperity through the employment of inexpensive labor. Despite the pride of British imperial power throughout the globe, immense poverty existed a short distance from the halls of power in the empire’s capital. Many in London preferred the neglect of the East End and its poverty blaming a “criminal class” as responsible for the ailments of urban society. After the Jack the Ripper murders, Charles Booth examined the East End through the sociological perspective in 1889 and discovered poverty much worse than he anticipated. After Booth’s “discovery,” middle class reformers increased their attention toward the East End’s poverty but it was already too late for the five victims of the 1888 serial killer.18 Foreigners and non-Anglo-Saxon residents of London received much blame rather unfairly for the existence of crime in the capital during the 19th century when poverty and apathy were the culprits for criminality in Gray’s work.

17 18

Gray, London’s Shadows, 45. Gray, London’s Shadows, 63, 231-238.


During the 1890s, a significant number of the charges against Jewish Londoners involved non-violent crime usually involving some form of deception fitting within a stereotype of criminal immigrants or ethnic minorities. In one particular instance, a banker named Mr. Mead received a fraudulent letter requesting funds for Rev. John Box’s Baptist Chapel for which he returned ₤5 to the stated address. Rev. Box denied sending the letter and a postman recalled delivering the letter to a man who signed his name E. Charig rather than John Box. Police Detective John Gill stated his belief that the handwriting of the forgery and Charig’s handwriting matched. The magistrate released the accused, Nathan Charig who was Jewish, on the account of his good character. Charig was poor and lived in tenement housing with weekly rent while his landlady testified that he had no regular job.19 Though people accused Nathan Charig of deceit, he accumulated enough respect from his neighbors to avoid a prison sentence despite his poverty, while the prosecution lacked evidence that Charig belonged to a criminal class. In another more complicated case, prosecutors accused Jewish men from foreign countries of another forgery crime. The prosecution alleged that Gerson Czernechoski, age 37 and Hyman Silverman, age 60 of illegally possessing thirty-five counterfeit Russian Rubles with intent of fraud. Both of the prisoners had lawyers to defend them in court against an accusation by Philip Cohen, who claimed they tried to sell the notes to him for ₤20. Czernechoski’s lawyer accused Cohen in the cross-examination of contacting Harris Isaacs to frame his client with the possession of the fraudulent banknotes to receive a reward from the Imperial Russian Embassy or Consulate. Cohen, of course, denied the accusations. Another witness for the prosecution, Daniel Goldberg

“Trial of Nathan Charig (26), April 1889 t18890408-389).” Old Bailey Proceedings Online, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18890408-389&div=t18890408-389&terms=jew#highlight (accessed November 29, 2011).


testified that Silverman and Czernechoski offered the sale of forged bank notes to him. Goldberg, like Cohen, informed the police of the forgeries and returned to Whitechapel to meet Sergeant Foster and Constable Enright, who later arrested the two on suspicion of forgery.20 Cohen and Goldberg showed that some Jewish residents of Whitechapel actively worked with the police rather than against them as criminals according to their testimony. The nature of the crime forgery, certainly not a foreshadowing of mass murder, revealed a theme of nonviolent crime accusations against members of the Jewish community in Whitechapel. The defense of the prisoners involved a significant number of Whitechapel residents who testified on their behalf, which showed a communal solidarity of the Jewish community in a crime whose victims were subjects of the Russian Czar and possibly the accused themselves. Sgt. Foster discovered the forged bank notes in a baby carriage after the arrest of Czernechowski, but members of the community defended the prisoners. A restaurant proprietor and his wife overheard Cohen’s conspiracy to plant the notes on Czernechowski and frame him for the reward money. Nineteen witnesses, usually from within the Jewish community, testified for the defense, placing Cohen as the real culprit for framing Czernechowski and Silverman for the reward. Multiple witnesses established that Czernechowski possessed no time for the placement of forged notes in the baby carriage and that Cohen was also at the crime scene. The court found the prisoners not guilty of any crimes because the immigrant community sought justice in the case even when several witnesses spoke English so poorly as to require a translator.21

“Trial of Gerson Czernechomski (37) and Hyman Silverman (60) October 1885 t18851019-997,” Old Bailey Proceedings, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18851019-997&div=t18851019997&terms=jew#highlight (Accessed November 29, 2011).

“Trial of Gerson Czernechomski (37) and Hyman Silverman (60) October 1885 t18851019-997,” Old Bailey Proceedings, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18851019-997&div=t18851019-


The trial of Czernechowski and Silverman showed that crimes happened within the Jewish community, but the community hardly threatened London. Members of the Whitechapel community sought justice even for their own beliefs and sense of community and were not a criminal class outside respectable society. The aforementioned accused Jewish Londoners were innocent and escaped prison sentences or hard labor through their community who used the court system to defend against false accusations in a judicial manner, but elites still feared the creation of a rebellious underclass that threatened their authority. The immigrants from Eastern Europe employed the increased mobility of the Industrial Era by moving to London, which created a perceived threat to the establishment by adding a new unknown population in the capital.22 Hours before the murder of Elizabeth Stride, The International and Education Club held a discussion on “Judaism and Socialism.”23 Similar discussions stoked the fears of the British elite that immigrant communities plotted the overthrow of the native British social order. The spread of fear by the middle class moralists regarding the murders and crime in general, as in Gray’s argument, legitimized their needs and ideals.24 The potential social upheaval by immigrants or non-AngloSaxons, regardless of the probability of such an event, signified another reason for the suspicion of the immigrant communities by the upper strata of British society that spread fear to the working classes to reinforce its preconceived notions about the East End and maintain social divisions for the preservation of the status quo. Londoners unfairly blamed non-Anglo-Saxon residents and immigrants for the poverty, crime, and misery of the East End in support of the existing social order, but
997&terms=jew#highlight (Accessed November 29, 2011). 22 Sean Farrell’s Victorian Britain Lecture, November 30, 2011. 23 Gray, London’s Shadows, 41. 24 Sean Farrell’s Victorian Britain Lecture, November 7, 2011.


ultimately the immigrant community, such as Eastern European Jews, hardly threatened the status quo of London. At worst, impoverished immigrants committed petty larceny or fraud, but a significant proportion of the immigrant community obeyed laws and fought for justice. Walkowitz and Gray established the social and cultural context for the Jack the Ripper slayings of 1888 through the public reactions to the location of the slaughter and the residents living in fear there, which unfairly stigmatized the population of Whitechapel as immoral rather than fixing the poverty that caused criminality. For Walkowitz, the murders reinforced the patriarchal system and weakened the feminist movement, while they bolstered notions of a devious criminal class as responsible for the social problems in Gray’s arguments. Immigrants and other people viewed as foreign played an important role in the arguments of both Walkowitz and Gray who portrayed them as the most isolated of communities in the neglected East End.


Works Cited: Primary Sources: The Times, September to November 1888. Old Bailey Proceedings Online, www.oldbaileyonline.org, accessed 29 November 2011. Secondary Sources Gray, Drew. London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City. London: Continuum, 2010. Walkowitz, Judith. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in LateVictorian London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful