Michael Plater

Jack the Ripper: The Divided Self and the Alien Other in Late-Victorian Culture and Society’ (PhD in History & Philosophy of Science, 2019).

This thesis examines late nineteenth-century public and media representations of the infamous ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of 1888. Focusing on two of the most popular theories of the day – Jack as exotic ‘alien’ foreigner and Jack as divided British ‘gentleman’ – it contends that these representations drew upon a series of emergent social and cultural anxieties in relation to notions of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Examining the widespread contention that ‘no Englishman’ could have committed the crimes, it explores late-Victorian conceptions of Englishness and documents the way in which the Ripper crimes represented a threat to these dominant notions of British identity and masculinity. In doing so, it argues that late-Victorian fears of the external, foreign ‘other’ ultimately masked deeper anxieties relating to the hidden, unconscious, instinctual self and the ‘other within’. Moreover, it reveals how these psychological concerns were connected to emergent social anxieties regarding degeneration, atavism and the ‘beast in man’. As such, it evaluates the wider psychological and sociological impact of the case, arguing that the crimes revealed the deep sense of fracture, duality and instability that lay beneath the surface of late-Victorian English life, undermining and challenging dominant notions of progress, civilisation and social advancement. Situating the Ripper narrative within a broader framework of late-nineteenth century cultural uncertainty and crisis, it therefore argues that the crimes (and, more specifically, populist perceptions of these crimes) represented a key defining moment in British history, serving to condense and consolidate a whole series of late-Victorian fears in relation to selfhood and identity.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Sara Wills, Dr James Bradley