Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Victorian Underclass

What does one do when there is a 4% surplus of women in Victorian Age London, with no men to marry and support them, and a tight restriction on the types of jobs suitable for women? Therein lies the Victorian underclass era conundrum.

The times were good for the British empire: huge profits from overseas conquests, large, educated middle class, and a long period of peace. Unfortunately, with huge industrialization comes massive amounts of laborers willing to work, and not enough jobs or high enough wages to support them. The East End of London was flooded with Russian and German Jews looking for work and to escape persecution in Eastern Europe. Only half of the children in London went to school, and the other half were expected to contribute to the family income. Women were not spared either. Although women are perceived as delicate, porcelain dolls, meant to clean the home and tend to the children, this was not possible without a family to be responsible for. With an imbalance of available men, they must support themselves with any means possible. All respectable jobs were reserved for the middle class men, with women allowed to be nurses, factory workers, or telephone connectors later on. These jobs were for the middle class and up, so what are those in the under class supposed to do? There simply were not enough jobs to go around, and the growing pressures of economic prosperity lead to the popularization of prostitution.

Reading all of the articles on Jack the Ripper and the roles of women in the Victorian era, it is a recurring theme to see that Jack is a symbol or twisted solution to the socio-economic problems of the area that he lived in. Government wanted a way to clear the East End of the problem of prostitution, and I'm sure more than one of them wished these prostitutes would just...disappear. Jack the Ripper literally did just that, by killing them and destroying the evidence. Whether his stories are fabricated or real, they brought awareness to the lack of police/government control, the overbearing problem of prostitution, and the cramped economic pressures of rapid urbanization in metropolises like London.
"Jack the Ripper highlighted many of the problems in Victorian society and instigated debate over social reform, particularly in relation to the social conditions in East End London." Casebook.

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