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The Boredom of Dark History: Women’s Histories and Jack the Ripper Narratives

Neighbors were startled last week when this facade was unveiled for the Jack the Ripper Museum.

Neighbors were startled last week when this facade was unveiled for the Jack the Ripper Museum.

Last week neighbors in London’s East End were dismayed that a planned women’s history museum had taken an unexpected turn.  Rather than “retell the story of the East End through the eyes, voices, experiences and actions of the women that shaped the East End,” the renamed Jack the Ripper Museum will narrate the lives of late 19th-century women through the familiar but hackneyed legend of a murderer.  The Jack the Ripper story has been told incessantly since the murder of five women in London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the late 1880s.  The murders are a fascinating tale of extraordinary evil heightened by the murderer’s ability to remain anonymous and escape an analysis of what delivered him to such unthinkable darkness.  Nevertheless, the Ripper’s story seems an especially challenging starting point to narrate the agency of women in 19th-century London.  The Museum awkwardly argues that it “discusses why so many women had little choice in their lives other than to turn to prostitution”; that only seems to confirm that they will tell another theatrical tale about the Ripper instead of reflectively study the scores of women who negotiated the late 19th-century East End. Read the rest of this entry