Monday, 14 December 2015

Monster or Angel? – The madwoman in the Attic – Women & Madness in the Victorian Era

             The Madwoman in the Attic – Women & Madness in the Victorian Era

During the Victorian period not many people knew much about mental health and neither did they really know what makes a person ‘mad’. A lot of women in the 19th century were diagnosed as being insane and sometimes that was the case but most of the time it was because either their families had given up on them or they didn’t confine to the conventional life of a Victorian woman. Due to a lot of doctors and psychiatrists not really understanding the way depression and anxiety worked a lot of women would be thrown into a mental asylum just because they were stressed. Now in the 21st century what would be provided for people suffering with mental illnesses would be counselling and therapy. However in the Victorian era they did not understand this, patients were either given lots of drugs or their brain was operated on. This was not only frightening and traumatising for the patients but left the women in a hysterical state. The drugs, the operations and electric shocking only made things worse, and turned the women into brain dead (zombies).

What made a woman insane in the Victorian era? Was it because she was mentally unstable or because she chose to be different? This is the period where if women did not lead their lives the conventional way a woman would be deemed to be insane. Women had to be domesticated creatures, if they did not follow Victorian domesticity there was a problem. There has always been two ways of portraying women in Victorian culture, either the ‘angel’ or ‘monster’. To get to the point women are humans neither angels nor monsters, but they’ve always been associated with one extreme view. However women just like men have good days and bad days, so why does literature turn them into insane creatures or angels? Why does literature show that either woman have to suppress their sexuality or when they do express it is not appropriate? Let’s focus on Jane Eyre, why is Jane Eyre the feminist heroine and Bertha Mason the monster, or better known as ‘the Madwoman in the attic?

There were a lot of stereotypes of women in the Victorian era, if a woman was ‘mad’ she would be presented in a certain way for example Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre, is dehumanised and presented to be like a beast. Before we even meet Mrs Rochester we are already told she is mad just like her ma so the reader already has a negative insight on her. When Rochester introduced Jane to Bertha she was described as ‘a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face (258).  In the first instance where Bertha is mentioned here she is distanced and dehumanised she is described as a ‘figure’ at first, which also adds mystery as to who she is and what kind of ‘figure’ is she. That fact that Jane cannot figure out whether she is a beast or human is degrading, but it is obvious that Bertha was not seen as human. This animal imagery is typical when describing someone that is insane, as women who were mentally unstable were seen as wild. Bertha is described as having ‘dark, grizzled hair’ which hid her head face, this is the stereotype of how insane women were seen. In the Victorian period women would have their hair up, this was the conventional way of doing ones hair so when a women had dark hair that was not styled appropriately it was looked down upon, hence why Bertha and Jane are described so differently in regards to their image. Also by Bertha being referred to as ‘it’ is further dehumanising her as she is not given a name nor a gender, she is just seen as an object/figure.

Unlike Bertha a lot of women were not locked up in the attic by their husband. So what happened to women who were so called considered to be ‘insane’? They were sent to a mental asylum, a lot of them were only meant to be there for a week or so but instead ended up staying for up to 3-5 years because they were mistreated and ended up feeling worse. The purpose of the mental asylum wasn’t to cure or help the mentally ill but more to exploit and experiment with them. Mental illness was not understood like it is now, we sympathise with the mentally ill more whereas, in the Victorian era women who were mentally unstable were seen as witches or possessed by the devil.

This sense of blaming the victim is also seen in Jane Eyre. Rochester blames Bertha for being mentally ill. He says “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard! — As I found out after I had wed the daughter: for they were silent on family secrets before. Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parent in both points (257).” The way Rochester talks about Bertha and her mother is not only insensitive but he seems to blame her and her mother for her being the way she is. However by Rochester accusing her of being mad makes her irrelevant, during the Victorian period if a woman was considered to be insane she was not respected and neither were her views valued or heard. Although we don’t find out much about Bertha in Jane Eyre apart from her being insane Jean Rhys gives us an insight to Bertha's mind in Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys gives Bertha a voice and untold her story… We soon find out that Bertha is not too different from Jane Eyre herself, they both have a lot in common. But because Bertha is the strong minded creole woman she is presented as mentally insane rather than a feminist heroine like Jane is, which is typical.  Instead we find out that her name is Antoinette Cosway and the only person that drove her to insanity was Rochester, who stripped her of her identity and bought her to England to be locked in an attic, now who seems more insane here?

The women who were sent to mental asylums were treated like prisoners rather than patients. They were locked away with no contact to others, isolated and some were even caged. I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t seem so healthy. The conditions in asylums were not hygienic and very crowded, the patients suffered immensely because of this. Let’s take a look at some of the so called treatments patients were manipulated to go through.

1 Lobotomy - This was a surgical operation involving incision into the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which was done by two ice pricks, which often left the patients feelings brain dead.

2 Electroconvulsive Therapy - this procedure involved small electric currents being passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. This was considered as a treatment but was seen more as torture for the patients, especially because it was meant to be performed when the patient is under anaesthetics. However sometimes this was performed when the patient was fully conscious.

3 Caged – This was more of a method of torture and control – patients who couldn’t control their emotions were caged often for days and left isolated.

4 Waterboarding Torture – Patients were blindfolded strapped to a chair and tipped into a pool of freezing cold water to subdue their emotions.

Patients were treated unethically in mental asylums, most of them started of sane and were driven to insanity because of the torture and mistreatment they received in the asylum. Mental asylums were full of women who were misunderstood or just placed there because they were not wanted by their husbands as men were the dominant ones women did not have a say in this. The only way for them to get out of the asylum was to comply with the doctors and take the drugs they were given. However these drugs only made them worse and slowed them down hence why so many stayed for multiple years.

Now that science has developed immensely doctors and psychiatrist have found out more about mental illnesses and how to treat people who suffer from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and psychosis. Now we have the NHS we have ethical treatments, such as cognitive therapy which involves therapy through speaking to the patient. Although psychiatrist are allowed to give medication to their patients, medicines are now highly developed and tested so people do not suffer. Specific medication is given for specific disorders unlike the 19th century where all the women were given the same drugs and dosage which would numb them rather than decrease their symptoms.


Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre: Wordsworth Classics. Hertfordshire. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999. Print
Gilbert. Sandra M, Susan, Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth- Century Literary Imagination. Yale University: Second Edition, 2000. Print
Images Cited:

Friday, 11 December 2015

Penny Dreadfuls 

During the 19th century, a sub-genre of sensationalist literature called Penny fiction (also referred to as "Penny dreadfuls" or "Penny bloods") flourished in the urban environments of England. These cheap serialised stories were published weekly in booklets of 8 or 16 pages, and was especially popular amongst the working classes. Because the continued publication of a penny dreadful depended on a stable readership, publishers often pressured their writers to make the storylines as dramatic and shocking as possible as well as prioritising resplendent illustrations over substance (Haining 31). As they were not particularly concerned about the quality of writing or a consistency between the different issues, much of it now looked at as subpar in comparison to the "regular" novels of the time, but that isn't to say that many great works of fiction weren't also created. 

The Boy Detective (1866), Jack Harkaway's Schooldays (1880), and Black Bess, Or, The Knight of The Road: A Tale Of The Good Old Times (1868) are just a few examples of penny dreadfuls with great illustrations. The drawings were designed to catch the eye of any potential reader, and thus didn't necessarily correlate with the plot of the booklet. (Haining 31)

  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

An illustration of Sweeney Todd with one of his victims
Amongst some of the most notable penny dreadfuls to be published is The String of Pearls: A Romance (1846-47) written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, where the famous fictional character Sweeney Todd had his debut. Todd is a barber and a serial killer, who murders his customers before looting and disposing of their bodies by pulling a lever which sends them down to his basement; subsequently, his partner in crime Mrs. Lovett makes pies of the corpses and sell them to unknowing citizens. Of course, there is much more to it than that, but looking at the main plot summarised it is quite ironic that the original title has "romance" in it.

"Of all the tales of crime and bloodshed which it has fallen to the lot of the historian or novelist to chronicle, we doubt if any other can compare on the point of horror with the story of Sweeney todd" (Mack, 2007, paratext)

Throughout the years The String of Pearls has seen countless adaptions and reinterpretations. Between the years 1847 and 1848 an expanded version of the story was published and later turned into a novel version. It was also adapted into a musical in 1847 and has since then been performed in different versions over the world. In recent times, Sweeney Todd is still a widely recognised name; Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter starred in the most recent cinematic adaption of the story, called "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and directed by Tim Burton. This film was my first introduction to the story and I personally really enjoy it.

A poster from the Tim Burton film adaption
of Sweeney Todd. 
It is definitely interesting to see the evolution of the character as time has progressed. Contrasted to the original version, the film's title makes it clear it is supposed to be scary. It's not referred to as "a romance" anymore, yet the film does romanticise his character nonetheless. If the makers really wanted Todd to be a "demon," they would not have cast Johnny Depp to play him. So readers are supposed to sympathise with him as he has been wronged and his murdering ways are justified in the name vengeance.

When I visited The London Dungeons in 2012, they had a section dedicated to Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. We were asked to sit down in barber chairs, before the lights went out and scary sound effects played to make it sound like we were about to become his next victims. There was also a section where an actor playing Mrs. Lovett was telling us about her "special pies" which contained a secret ingredient. It was quite funny and only slightly scary. I think the story of Sweeney Todd is so sensationalist and over the top that people find it less scary and more morbidly intriguing.

Varney The Vampire

Another hugely popular penny dreadful is Varney The Vampire; or A Feast of Blood (1845-47) to which authorship is also credited to Thomas Preskett Prest and James Malcolm Rymer. A significant thing about Varney The Vampire is that it is one of the earliest vampire stories ever published, predating other famous vampire stories like for instance Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) and Le Fanu's Carmilla (1871-72). Varney is and excellent example of a penny dreadful's tendency to not bother keeping up consistencies between the issues. As this story was released over several years and spanned over a thousand pages, several plotlines were started off and dropped without any conclusion, yet it was a vastly popular series (Owen). 

"The following romance is collected from seemingly the most authentic sources, and the Author must leave the question of credibility entirely to his readers, not even thinking that he in his peculiarly called upon to express his own opinion upon the subject." (Prest, paratext). Varney The Vampire was no doubt intriguing and entertaining for the public as it kept them interested for so long, and it also helped pave the way for other works of fiction about vampires.

Illustration from the first chapter of Varney. Here,
Varney attacks a young woman and drinks her blood.

I first learned about Penny Dreadfuls from the Showtime TV series with the same name. This is a show set in Victorian times mixing together several popular sensationalist novels (ex. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) The name is very fitting because the plotline is sensational, the visual elements are put in focus and it borrows a lot of material from other works of fiction, something penny dreadfuls were notorious for.

Works Cited (Research): 

Flanders, Judith. 'Penny Dreadfuls'. The British Library. N.p., 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Haining, Peter. Mystery! An Illustrated History of Crime and Detective Fiction. London: Souvenir Press Ltd, 1977. Print.,. 'Varney The Vampire'. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Mack, Robert L. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. N.p., Oxford University Press UK, 2007. Ebook
Owen, Lauren. 'Varney – The Forgotten Vampire | The Gothic Imagination'. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Prest, Thomas Preskett. Varney The Vampire Or The Feast Of Blood. Project Gutenberg, 2005. Ebook.

Works Cited (Images):

Viles, Edward. Black Bess, Or, The Knight Of The Road : A Tale Of The Good Old Times. 1868. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Unknown,. The Boy Detective; Or, The Crimes Of London. A Romance Of Modern Times. 1866. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Prest, Thomas Prescott. Varney The Vampire. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
Rymer, James M. Sweeney Todd And A Victim. 1850. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Sweeney Todd Poster. 2007. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Monday, 7 December 2015

pornographic fiction, prostitution and well dressed pervs. IN THE VICTORIAN ERA.

                                     Pornographic fiction, prostitution and well dressed pervs     
                                                        IN THE VICTORIAN ERA.

                                          Dirty minds and pornographic fiction. I
It is often wrongly assumed that the Victorians were a reserved bunch who did not explore themselves sexually. They are often thought of in a prestigious way, a way which does not entirely match up to what was going down in the period. Not only were the Victorians having sex, they were having sex in more ways than that of a twenty first century thinker could possibly imagine. Don’t let the concealing fashion of the Victorian fool you, don’t be a victim to their posh lace, fitted bonnets and long frocks. Don’t be no fool in thinking that just because every inch of a Victorian woman’s skin was covered they restricted themselves from exploring themselves sexually. The fashion of these people may have reflected purity, innocence and restriction, though they were far from reserved both with one and other and with their thoughts.

 It’s completely understandable why one would think that these people did not explore themselves sexually. ‘Up tight’ is an understatement when you attempt to describe the way these two on your right look, but you must destroy this concept in your minds which allows you to think that the Victorians were not promiscuous. Destroy it and make room for the shocking reality which awaits you… 

The males of the Victorian era were often referred to as gentlemen, I have never thought twice about the validity of this term in its context until I realised there was nothing gentle about these men apart from their appearances. These neat appearances however contributed to nothing apart from being deceptive. A deception from the sexual, explicitly vulgar, and arguably corrupt minds of specific men of this time period. “She had hold of my prick, and I her cunt, for she now sat with thighs quite wide open. It was my first real feel of a woman, and she meant me to feel well. How large and hairy, and wet it seemed; its size overwhelmed me with astonishment”. How lovely and restricted these thoughts are indeed.

It was these thoughts which dominated and governed the minds of gentlemen. The Victorian era was not a time of sexual restriction but rather sexual exploration, a time where pornographic fiction was bought to life. The above description taken out of my secret life reveals how explicit the minds of some of these Victorian men were when it came down to their sexual thoughts. Still want to believe the Victorians were reserved? I think not…

                                                    Twenty first century changes. II

Agreed that in the twenty first century things have taken a change, women are no longer expected to have their bits covered up, men have become more open minded shall we say and no longer associate the sight of our ankles with prostitution. In this day and age we can have our bodies on show without men thinking we want to sell our bodies. The fear of being a fallen women is no longer indoctrinated into women’s’ minds. The sight of our skin no longer screams ‘shag me’ to the minds of men no more. Women are encouraged to dress freely and the way we dress is no longer deemed a valuable excuse for men’s sleaziness. Once upon a time in the Victorian’s world it was… If a woman had her ankles on show this indicated she was selling her body. How lovely it is that our ankles are no longer associated with a career in prostitution in the twenty first century, I mean could you imagine?

                                              The woman who did it for her kids. III
“so I’se druv to it sir by poverty, and nothing in the face of Gods blessed earth, sir, shouldn’t have druv me but that for the poor babes must live”

The rate of ongoing prostitution in the Victorian period was far more intense than what it is now. Prostitution was not viewed with the sympathetic insight that we have in the twenty first century, where we understand that women sell their bodies because often they have no other choice. If a woman was a prostitute in the Victorian era it was simply because they had chosen that path, it was simply deemed as a pleasurable, easy career path for lazy or uneducated women. What determined a woman as a prostitute was also something entirely different to what a twenty first century thinker would consider a prostitute to be. Victorian’s believed that any woman who was having sex out of marriage was a prostitute. Complete nonsense, I know. 

These closed minded views often came from the intelligent male species of that time of course. I mean nothing has changed there, males still persist on placing their views on such topics that they cannot possibly experience themselves for specific reasons. Henry Mayheur was one of these gentlemen who went round exploring the streets of London in attempt to get to know prostitutes on a personal level. Only he didn’t do that at all. Instead he judged them and simply placed them in some sort of category; “Those that will not work” is what the lovely Mayheur labelled these Victorian prostitutes, which I find both ironic and highly ignorant. I mean the majority of the time women would sell themselves because their husbands and children needed to be fed but by no means it’s okay to label them as workless.The proper Victorian gentleman, with his respect for order, account books, profits, and method, naturally expects that these virtues should apply as well to the world of sex’. These men were clearly incapable of viewing prostitution with the empathy and sympathy it demanded, the only way they could make sense of it was to think of it as a form of business.

Mayheur makes a lovely attempt of trying to explain to his reader how these women ended up as prostitutes, however in doing so he only emphasizes how corrupt men’s thoughts and perspectives were when it came down to these matters. “Others have been waiting maids in hotels, or in service in good families, and have been seduced by servants in the family, or by gentlemen in the house, and be taken themselves to a wild life of pleasure”.  

One must admire Mayheur for his complete ignorance. He has just described a series of events that don’t sound the least bit ordinary, and yet his conclusion is dismissive of everything he has just described. Any normal person in Mayheur’s position would have acknowledged that these poor women took themselves to a life of prostitution because of men themselves. “They were either ‘seduced’ by servants in the family, or by gentlemen in the house.” What Mayheur really means here is that at one point these women were completely victimized. He skilfully sugar coats the disturbing reality of it all with the aesthetically pleasing term ‘seduced’ to make the reader view what the men did as a more pleasurable experience for the women. When in reality it was simply wrong and corrupt. All in all you must agree with me in saying that these so called ‘gentlemen’ were really a bunch of well suited pervs who lacked self-control.

                                               The woman who did it for herself. IV
“I have the most expensive things sometimes, and when I can I live in a sumptuous manner, comparatively speaking”.

Although the majority of women who prostituted themselves did so for their children or husbands this was not the case for all of them. Some women prostituted themselves for their own benefits of living a more luxurious, extravagant life. You must take into account that there wasn’t many ways for a woman to earn her own living in the Victorian era, their options were limited. It was Victorian men who were in control of everything financially. If a woman decided to prostitute herself out of her own free will the money she made belonged to herself. Prostitution gave the Victorian woman her own financial independence, one which was not controlled or dominated by a man. In the twenty first century women have many ways of making their own money it is very rare now that you will come across a woman who is dependent on a male for her living. All in all you must appreciate the fact that we don’t need to sell our bodies in order to make a living anymore, women are able to be independent in several ways. It is easy to complain about these nine to five jobs but at least we no longer need to seek these far extremes to live an independent life.

Works cited :
- Henry Meyheur extracts:
-        -   They were either ‘seduced’ by servants in the family, or by gentlemen in the house.”
-        -   “Those that will not work”

- - (My secret life document):
-         -  “She had hold of my prick, and I her cunt, for she now sat with thighs quite wide open. It was my first real feel of a woman, and she meant me to feel well. How large and hairy, and wet it seemed; its size overwhelmed me with astonishment”.
-        -   The proper Victorian gentleman, with his respect for order, account books, profits, and method, naturally expects that these virtues should apply as well to the world of sex’

Images cited:

By Alisia Argyrou 

The hairy affair of Victorian hair

Hair wherever on the body it might be have for a long time been a topic of interest for both women and men. There is evidence of removal or trimming of pubic hair on both genders as early as back as the ancient Egyptians and Roman Empire this for hygienic reasons among others, a tradition that still has a hold in Western culture to this day. Writers in the Victorian period were also fascinated by hair and used it as a tool to describe personality traits and give the reader a clue about the character from early on something that is true for Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

We know little to nothing about the pubic hairs of the characters in Jane Eyre so let’s look at pubic hair in general for women in the Victorian period. There are many reasons for why women remove their pubic hair especially in the Victorian period even though they wore clothes that covered every aspect of body hair except their heads. Statues and nude paintings from the Victorian period show women with no pubic hair although they are adult women, supporting the argument that hair removal most likely took place. According to Fleming there were three main methods when tending to one’s pubic hair. One was the safety-razors that first appeared in the late 1840s so it is possible the women in Jane Eyre would use this to remove unwanted hair, although there was a tremendous risk of dying of infection if one were to accidentally cut oneself. They also used candles to burn away hair as this was something most people had access to. Another option was to put a piece of leather with gum on the hairs then rip it off hopefully taking the roots out resulting in making the hair grow back at a slower pace. Some also tried different types of chemicals such as chloride of lemon (usually used for bleaching cotton) to get rid of the hair as Fleming mentions. Another option to removing pubic hair was trimming it, something mothers, sisters and friends would help each other with according to Fleming as well as to look for body and pubic lice to best keep them under control, not to mention bodily odours. Hygiene, fashion and parasite control might be the main reasons why Victorian women chose to remove as much as possible of both pubic and other body hair even though Victorian husbands rarely saw their wife naked as they had nightgowns and such for every situation. The men in the Victorian age could remove their hair if wanted but it was not the social norm like it was for women, so although Jane most likely removed her body hair Rochester didn’t necessarily do so.

Hair in the Victorian period and in Jane Eyre help establish class much like it still does as it is unthinkable that the Queen would for example get a Mohawk. Some lower class poor people in the Victorian period sold their hair to make money and also for hygienic reasons, and as they would cover their head with something most times they didn’t really need it. High or middle class Victorian women became desperate to achieve perfect hair and it became custom to buy extra hair to make ones hair look better, something that resulted in a high demand for hair to use which lead to even graves being dug up and corpses getting a last haircut. Ofek says that puritans tried to fight the new trend in hair fashion by making a ‘link between hair and dirt which was merely a puritan attempt to fight against feminine vanity, since not only artificial hair was associated with dirt. Rather, even woman’s natural hair was perceived as some kind of ‘dirty’ matter which had to be constantly cleaned and trimmed.’ (Ofek 10). To keep up with the latest trends and to follow the norm of having hair ‘suited to every time and occasion, and dressed up at least twice a day (…)’ (Ofek 35) Victorian women needed a father, husband or admirer willing to spend money on them, so by making women hair complex men in the Victorian period had successfully made hair a sign of both class and gender making it easier for them to sort out who was a suitable lady to marry and who was better to spend a night with.  

In Jane Eyre Miss Georgiana is described by Abbot as ‘Little darling! – with her long curls and her blue eyes, and such a sweet colour as she has; just as if she were painted! (...)’ (Brontë 32). In the Victorian period blond or golden hair, like Miss Georgiana has, was thought to be angelic. Curls were also special in that the curling iron was not patented before 1866 and Jane Eyre is published in 1847 a time when achieving naturally looking curled hair was very difficult and therefore natural curly hair was sought after. Many women tried to achieve golden hair such as the Miss Georgiana has by bleaching it unfortunately the chemicals used often burned the head of the user or poisoned them as they contained among others both lead and magnesium harmful for the human body as Fleming states. The fact that women in the Victorian period was hurting their bodies to achieve impossible beauty standards might be a reason why women was also thought of as weak considering they were constantly poisoned form an early age. Even though Miss Georgiana features and hair makes her angelic in the Victorian period it is evident through here actions she is far from an angel and through this conflict between looks and personality Brontë successfully questions the beauty ideals in the Victorian period by making the plain looking Jane the heroin with admirable traits.

When Brontë describes Bertha on the other hand she use hair as a means to dehumanize her making it more difficult for the reader to sympathize with her compared to Jane as for example when Jane first see Bertha after learning about her existence ‘What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.’ (Brontë 338). For women in the Victorian age it was expected that they started wearing their hair up when they came of age which was around the age of 15, to wear ones hair down after that age was considered sinful and promiscuous behaviour. Brontë use word like ‘mane’ instead of hair to establish Berthas animalistic features and according to Ofek ‘dark hair signifies fallen or dangerous female sexuality’ (Harrison 103) so by Brontës description Bertha is dangerous and fallen through her relationship with Rochester especially since women’s hair in the Victorian period was all about men’s desire to control women sexuality. Ofek also argues that due to the clothing fashions of the time covering most of the women for modesty’s sake turned ‘(…) hair, neck and shoulders into the ‘foucus of sexual interest’ (…)’ (Ofek 3) making hair of great importance for displaying class and ownership through. Men in the Victorian age sought to cover up the hair of a woman and dictate how it looked as much as possible to come to terms with his own desires and sexuality. Women was made to wear bonnets for church and shawl and bonnets even inside the house during visits preventing sexual desires due in the male guest towards their wife or daughters fabulous hair, leading women to cover their hair up for most of the nineteenth century. It was usual for women in the Victorian period to not cut their hair but rather trim it a bit each month or so to ensure good and strong hair. As women hair grew longer and longer men’s hair was going shorter and shorter, sociologist Rose Weitz explains it like this ‘the most widespread cultural rule about hair is that women’s hair must differ from men’s hair’ explaining why men’s hair grew shorter and to prove their manliness they let their beards grow longer like for example Charles Darwin or Charles Dickens. Hair for the Victorian women did not change until the women started being more active as they did during the First World War and through the industrial revolution.

How much class and sexuality mattered when it came to hair in the Victorian period really shows in Jane Eyre when Mr. Brocklehurst sees poor Julia Severn who has naturally curly red hair making her desirable and pretty only to have the misfortune of not being of high enough class to make it acceptable for Mr. Brocklehurst to admire her beautiful curls so he commands for her to have them cut off. As he says ‘Why (…) does she conform to the world so openly – here in an evangelical, charitable establishment – as to wear her hair one mass of curls?’ (Brontë 76) as to hide behind the argument that this is not suited for God, the very God that through his belief created the girl and her curls. It is clear that he does not care about that this is an evangelical establishment when just a short while after his outburst he welcomes and directs to the ‘seats of honour at the top of the room’ (Brontë 77) three ladies with ‘elaborately curled’ hair with ‘a false front of French curls’. Brontë uses hair in her writing to criticise and question female beauty standers but also as a tool to give the reader ideas of class and personality of the characters in question. Did Brontë change the way we look at hair today or is wild or short hair on women still taboo?


Arbuckle, Alex Q. Mashable. 25 August 2015. Web page. 16 November 2015. <>.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin, 2006. Novel.
Fleming, R. S. Kate Tattersall. 10 February 2013. Web page. 14 November 2015. <>.
Harrison, Kimberly. Victorian Sensation Essay on a Scandalous Genre. Ohio: The Ohio State University Press, 2006. Novel.

Ofek, Galia. Representations of hair in Victorian Literature and Culture. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009. Novel.

From Hell - Jack the Ripper and his Unfortunates

 Jack the Ripper. It is almost impossible to forget the name of the anonymous serial killer, a mysterious murder case that has kept the world enthralled since the Ripper first struck the streets of Victorian London. The ripper butchered five prostitutes in the dim, gas-lit alleyways of Whitechapel, London in the 19th century. These grisly murders sickened the public and sparked a classic 'whodunit' case for the whole world to investigate. To this day the serial killer’s identity remains a mystery — ' over 500 suspects were put forward by various experts and historians based on flimsy or non-existent evidence.’ (Stephen P. Ryder – The Casebook.) 

A painting by Dave Palumbo
It is important to consider the living conditions that the East End Londoners were living in at the time of the murders.  London was full of rigid masses of the urban poor. Whitechapel was the immigrant district of London as Russian, Irish or Jewish immigrants were living in the area. Survival was a daily struggle as houses were overcrowded, streets were dirty, and the area was very violent and noisy. Severe unemployment leads the women to live and work as prostitutes in slums in order to survive. Prostitution was common, 'the metropolitan police in October 1888 estimated that there were around 1200 prostitutes in Whitechapel, and over 60 brothels.' Furthermore the public was familiar with alcoholism and disease from the appalling living conditions. The people of the East end were unprepared for the horrors to come. 

'William Acton, a surgeon, said he had counted 185 [prostitutes] in the course of a walk home. He made a table showing the estimated figures of brothels and prostitutes in London, May 1857.' (British Library)
The murder sites of the famous "Canonical Five"
The first victim of the "Canonical Five" was Mary Ann Nichols - known as “Polly" a prostitute murdered on the August 31st, 1888. Nichols wanted to earn her 'doss money' and met her fate as her throat was slashed deeply twice from left to right; her abdomen was cut with a mutilating gash. 'A contemporary account claims that the "lower part of the person was completely ripped open”. All of the wounds had been inflicted with a sharp knife.’ After Nichols’ body was examined, it was known that the killer had disemboweled her body. Polly’s murder opened a new case, as inspectors were horrified at the mutilating of her body. Polly was not the first promise that was murdered, a few days later second victim Annie Chapman was found murdered in a grotesque manner on September 8, 1888. Inspectors were alarmed at the murders, what kind of person committed these murders? Was it someone who was self-centred under that narcissism that wanted domination? Despite the heat the women, men and children of the capital’s poorest area shivered in constant fear of the ripper. The faceless butcher stalked the streets of Whitechapel after dark, searching for more victims to add to his calling card. 

First page of the "Dear Boss" letter
But on the 27th September, 1888 a letter titled "Dear Boss" was sent to the central news agency and signed as "Jack the Ripper". Originally the letter was thought to be a journalistic hoax, just another journalist who sent the letter in order to keep the press talking and story going. However, after the double event murder of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30th, 1888, made the inspectors reexamine the letters:

"Dear Boss,

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn't you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife's so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.

Yours truly

Jack the Ripper

Don't mind me giving the trade name

PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I'm a doctor now. ha ha"

Second page of the "Dear Boss" letter
After the murders of Eddowes, her ear was found cut off which links to the promise the Ripper made in the letter "I shall clip the lady ears off and send to the police officers". But since the Ripper did not send the ear to the police, the letter was dismissed and scholars today believe that the letter was in fact a hoax. Yet the signed name "Jack the Ripper" was unavoidable, as the killer wanted to take complete credit for the murders. This mirrors the sadistic methodical murders committed in the name of revolution in The Tale of Two Cities. Jack the Ripper from his letter seems to think his cause had reason and these women were worthy of dying, mirroring the way Madame Desfarge thought the Bourgeois deserved to die. The Ripper murders his prostitutes in the same methodical way Madame Desfarge knitted her hit list. This could demonstrate the same sociopathic tendencies in a character like Madame Desfarge as in Jack the Ripper. It was a way of informing the world of his identity, to offend the police and stun the town. The murders were so similar it was figured that they were none other than the work of the ripper, a man with a mania for murder. The women were obscenely butchered and barely identifiable. The ripper’s last victim of the “Canonical Five” was Mary Jane Kelly murdered on November 9th, 1888. The alarming similarities of each of the five murders were not ignored, the press reported on each murder, every detail, feeding the public fascination of what was happening.

London Daily Post dated: November 9, 1888

Newspapers were wondering if the murders were linked and rewards were offered in exchange for information on the killer. As several suspects were brought in and interrogated, Inspectors searched methodically for the killer but yet they were ill-equipped with experience and the right training to deal with it. Some detectives were disguised to catch the killer, but the suspects were cleared of suspicion. The East end Londoners were up against a well-organised murderer — after committing the murders the Ripper would remove himself from the scene to escape and avoid getting caught.

Jack the Ripper was believed to have worked in a familiar territory, a comfort zone; this suggests that the killer possibly must've been someone who did not stand out from a crowd.  To this day, experts are attempting to find out who 'Jack the Ripper' really was, but what's interesting is that a nineteenth century horror still hangs over us today.


Ryder, Stephen P. "Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Suspects." Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Suspects. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. <>. 

Paley, Bruce. Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth. London: Headline Book Pub., 1996. Print

Palumbo, Dave. Jack the Ripper. 2012. Macabre & Horror, n.p.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale Of Two Cities. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1994. Print.

Acton, William. "Prostitution." Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. Judith Flanders, n.d. Web. <>.

Murder Sites of the "Canonical Five" Digital image. My Maps. Google, n.d. Web. <>.

Wilson, David. A History of British Serial Killing: The Shocking Account of Jack the Ripper, Harold Shipman and beyond. London: Sphere, 2011. Print.

"Dear Boss." Letter. 25 Sept. 1888. Casebook: Ripper Letters. Casebook, n.d. Web. <>.

Jack the Ripper Claims 5th Victim" Digital image. 10 Famous Serial Killers. Top 10 Edges, n.d. Web. <>.