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The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale Hardcover – October 20, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Was pitiful pauper Rhynwick Williams the Monster who inflamed London circa 1790 with a series of slashing attacks on women? Bondeson, a British medical doctor who explores unusual corners of history (A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, etc.), ably resurrects this "popular mania" in a work well attuned to its large cast and social subtleties. He portrays in tart specifics a city plagued by class stratification, street crime and vice, and that was served by barely rudimentary policing. Yet the social imagination was seized by a series of mysterious attacks on women (accompanied by the perpetrator's vulgar exclamations) and the resulting flood of public accusations, rumor-mongering and bawdy prints. After various falsely accused individuals were nearly lynched, the beau of a more socially prominent victim apprehended Williams, an artificial flower maker with uncouth habits with regard to women, who nonetheless had a strong alibi. Still, Williams was convicted after two raucous and ineptly managed trials and served several years. Bondeson's colorful principals are soundly portrayed, as is the resonant backdrop of a chaotic, misogynist and barbarous metropolis. Although his 18th-century London seems far removed and faintly absurd, Bondeson's examination of the Monster mania and similar 19th-century incidents throughout Europe as examples of "moral panic"Awherein isolated incidents convince the populace that moral order is being erodedAis illuminating. The theme will undoubtedly resonate with readers today, and Bondeson's fascinating account will appeal not only to true-crime buffs but to readers interested in an unusual slice of history. 34 b & w illustrations. (Dec.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Entirely fascinating."—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post



The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale, by medical doctor Jan Bondeson, is the dark-humored true story of a late-Georgian psychopath who lashed out at women in a two-year crime spree until an unlikely suspect was caught, tried, and convicted in a sensational trial. With the pace of a great thriller, Bondeson takes the reader to brutal and bawdy 18th-century England to join in the chase after one of the most outrageous and mysterious criminals of all time, the dreaded London Monster. "Bondeson shares the impresario's glee in whipping off the handkerchief or whipcracking up another curtain on another monster, relishing the absurdity and the fun of it all."—Marina Warner



"Using sensational newspaper accounts, pamphlets, broadsides, and best of all illustrated posters that virtually covered every house and lamppost, Bondeson . . . has written a thorough account of the attacks, the victims, the witnesses, the capture, the trials, and indeed the entire spectrum of such crimes right up to the millennium."—New York Times



"What make the book so interesting is the social climate that produced the Monster. . . . A gripping story."—Lucy Moore, Washington Times



"A visual treat. . . . These hysterical handbills, satirical cartoons, and illustrated verses are sometimes quaint, sometimes shocking."—Steven Saylor, Philadelphia Inquirer



"The case of the London Monster, here narrated in lavish detail, carries real historical significance. . . . An absorbing contribution to our knowledge of metropolitan myths."—Roy Porter, Times Higher Education Supplement



"Illuminating. . . . Bondeson's fascinating account will appeal not only to true-crime buffs but to readers interested in an unusual slice of history."—Publishers Weekly



"A well-told narrative. . . . An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)



"In addition to being a compelling crime story, the book is a rewarding history. Bondeson provides an excellent survey of London's social and political life, the interactions within and between classes, and the acute limitations of strictly amateur criminal investigations and police work."—Foreword Magazine



"The medley of violence and macabre comedy will appeal to . . . readers who cannot help bring intrigued as well as disgusted by such grisly matters (and I must confess to being one of these). . . . There are countless connoisseurs of 'real crime' who will welcome this lively and gripping book."—Thomas Wright, Daily Telegraph





"Impeccable. . . . [Bondeson] is to be commended on the level of research that has obviously been undertaken to produce this fascinating boo. Highly recommended for crime historians."—Ripperologist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; First Edition edition (October 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812235762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812235760
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,434,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rory Coker on May 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Even as I write, the region of Delhi, India, is in the grip of a panic: a mysterious "monkey man" is attacking people all over the area, scratching them with long metal claws! At least two people have died in a panic attempting to escape after someone cried that the monkey man had come, falling downstairs or off roofs. However, in no case is there the slightest physical evidence, either of an attacker or of an attack.
In what I believe is his fourth book, Jan Bondeson tells us all the facts concerning a possibly similar case in 1790 London, in which the "London Monster" slashed women with a knife (or a blade hidden in a nosegay of artificial flowers, or with spurs fixed to his knees or his toes, or, or, or...). Was this a case of mass panic, as in India, or was it the work of one man, or the confluence of many otherwise independent "copycat crimes," and was the man arrested, convicted and sentenced guilty or innocent? Bondeson covers all the possibilities in an admirably even-handed manner.
London in 1790 was a strange place to modern eyes, and perhaps strangest of all was the almost total absence of any law enforcement agency. In the rare instances that people were convicted of crimes, the death penalty was meted out for even the most trivial offenses. In one of the most notorious cases, a starving woman picked up a bit of linen, perhaps tempted to steal it, but lost her nerve and immediately put it back. Observed by the shopkeeper, she was brought before a magistrate, tried, convicted and executed! Bondeson gives us all the needed background to appreciate all the circumstances of the "London Monster" case.
In fact my only reservations about the book involve its printing.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Everyone knows of Jack the Ripper, but you probably don't know of The London Monster. You won't forget him after reading _The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale_ (University of Pennsylvania Press) by Jan Bondeson. Bondeson is a physician who lives in London, and whose previous books include _The Feejee Mermaid_, a look at various "unnatural" specimens like fake mermaids and vegetable lambs. His current book is a gothic-comic history, full of unnatural specimens such as a hero known as "The Catamite" and "The Cowardly Fishmonger," unreliable alibi witnesses who worked in an artificial flower factory, corrupt judges, and The Monster himself, Rhynwick Williams, or maybe it wasn't.
The Monster had a career of crime not of disemboweling his victims as his criminal descendant The Ripper did, but of following them in the street, insulting them, cutting their clothes, slicing their buttocks, and making his foul and stealthy escape into the night. He also would approach a woman, insist that she examine the bouquet of artificial flowers he carried, and then cut her with a blade concealed in the bouquet. His exploits were heavily covered by the press; one reporter wrote that certain ladies had been "wounded by some MONSTER (for such the perpetrator of such horrid deed must be, as there was not one but laid strong claims to beauty)." His career lasted from 1788 to 1790, and Bondeson lists fifty-eight women who were his supposed victims. Such a list is highly questionable, because of the notoriety of The Monster. Newspapers, poems, caricatures, and posters for rewards (all well reproduced here) meant many false leads.
Not only has Bondeson described the career of The Monster with verve and humor, but he has given a brief history of similar episodes of "epidemic hysteria.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those who enjoy Caleb Carr's books, this is the real thing. Bondeson has done a terrific job of conveying the atmosphere of 18th-century London and keeps the suspense up in this unusual story. Nobody dies, but the psychological profile of this bizarre criminal, the dozens of memorable characters--such as the Monster's Monty Pythonesque lawyer Theophilus Swift, and the panic surrounding the Monster's deeds make this book a must for those who want to read a one-of-a-kind true crime and trial story. Well done!
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is the most amazing book I have read for some considerable time. I bought it to read on the flight from NY to London and could not put it down. The story is that in 1790, London is plagued by a bloodthirsty monster stalking young and beautiful women, and cutting their posteriors with a sharp instrument. The city is in a turmoil and mob justice rules: there is an immense reward and many people are falsely accused, some even lynched. The women dare not emerge outside without wearing protective clothing. Finally, after more than 50 Monster attacks, a man named Rynwick Williams is arrested by a vigilante. Far from a typical monster, he used to be a ballet dancer before becming an artificial flower maker. The book follows the misfortunes of this decidedly non-macho character: he is pelted by the mob, branded as the most hated man in London, and subjected to two ludicrous trials. The narrative reads like a highly imaginative novel, but it is all true, and backed up by an impressive list of sources.
In my mind at least, Rynwick Williams was clearly innocent, although Bondeson presents some evidence against him. Even more pertinent is the question whether there really was a Monster, or if the whole thing was a remarkable case of mass hysteria. Far from just giving a descriptive account of the Monster-mania in 1790, Bondeson astutely links it with modern examples of collective delusions, some of which involve mystery assailants. There is much more to this book than just a remarkable story: like the best books on true crime, it gives a fascinating piece of social history. My only wonder is how, with 100 books published about Jack the Ripper, it took so long for this remarkable Monster story to be discovered.
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