In 1888 a killer stalked the streets of London’s Whitechapel district, brutally and ritualistically murdering women. The killer, dubbed Jack the Ripper, captured lurid headlines and the imagination of the public. Fictionalized versions of his story started appearing as early as October of 1888, only a few weeks after the discovery of the first victim. Since then hundreds of stories have been written about Jack, his victims, and his legacy. No fictional treatment of the character, however, has ever been approached like the character of “Jack” in Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. Rumor has it that someone bet Zelazny that he couldn’t write a story in which the reader rooted for Jack the Ripper as a hero. According to the rules of the wager, Jack could not be a “modified version” of the character where it wasn’t “really” Jack who committed the murders; the character had to be the 1888 serial killer who committed the crimes. Whether the rumor is true or not, Zelazny created a fascinating narrative with a host of characters from literature, history, and film—including Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Frankenstein, Rasputin, Sherlock Holmes, and more—in which a deadly game is played in a rural suburb of Victorian London.
The Crystal Palace, a giant glass and iron exhibition hall built in Hyde Park, housed the 1851 Great Exhibition of The Works of Industry of All Nations. Many consider this remarkable structure to be one of the touchstones of Victorian England—an intrinsic part of the cultural system that both shaped and reflected the nation’s values. Sir Joseph Paxton’s design made such an impact in the field of architecture that replicas of the structure were built in Spain and the United States. Yet such were mainstream British attitudes toward foreign influence during the Victorian era that the construction of The Crystal Palace, and the Great Exhibition, almost didn’t occur.
He brought to light the awful reality of the sweatshops where tailors stitched clothing for fourteen hours a day; dulling their eyesight, clogging up their lungs with stuffy air and cloth fibers, denied even the shortest of breaks so that their targets were met. Wives must bring them tea and bread and drop it down their throats while they continued to work. He spoke of the match girl’s strike of July, of their exposure to the terrible white phosphorus that rotted their jaws. The speaker even touched on the poor women who were so desperate that they must sell their bodies on the street and face murder at the hands of the demented individual who stalked Whitechapel by night.