Notes on Hallie Rubenhold's "The Five" (2019)


Conclusion. 'Just Prostitutes'

Pages 337-388: Shortly after the death of Annie Chapman, Mr Edward Fairfield, a senior civil servant at the Colonial Office and a resident of the upmarket South Eaton Place in London's Belgravia, was moved to pick up his pen and write a letter to The Times. He was particularly concerned about the series of Whitechapel murders. The actual deaths of 'the vicious inhabitants of Dorset Street and Flower and Dean Street' were not what was bothering him. Edward Fairfield was far more anxious that in the wake of this disturbance women like Annie Chapman would be displaced from their hellish hovels in Spitalfields and make their way into his neighbourhood, carrying their 'taint to the streets hitherto untainted'. 'The horror and excitement caused by the murder of the four Whitechapel outcasts imply a universal belief that they had a right to life ...' continued this representative of the government.

If they had, then they had the further right to hire shelter from the bitterness of the English night. If they had no such right, then it was, on the whole, a good thing that they fell in with this unknown surgical genius. He, at all events, has made his contribution towards solving 'the problem of clearing the East-end of its vicious inhabitants'.1

While today we are likely to shiver at such a comment, Edward Fairfield was simply expressing what would have been if not a widely held sentiment, then one that he did not feel was inappropriate to discuss openly in 1888.

Note 1 (on page 379): The Times, 1 October 1888.

In an online article, "Being Fair to Fairfield" (5 May 2019), David Barrat examines Fairfield's letter and interprets it in relation to the foregoing correspondence in the Times. He argues that, in contrast to the author's interpretation, Fairfield was attacking the advocates of "dispersal" schemes that disregarded the rights of the poorest to life and shelter, and were liable to be misused for private profit. Barrat's interpretation of the extract quoted by the author is that Fairfield was satiring the views of advocates of "clearance" by saying that, if they did not believe in the right of the poor to life, then logically they should approve of the Ripper murders as a contribution towards solving the problem. See also further comments by Barrat in the online article "Deconstructing Hallie" (18 July 2020).