A wry, compelling look at the mania surrounding the sensational case of the "Monster" who terrorized eighteenth-century London. "Entirely fascinating"Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
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"--wherein isolated incidents convince the populace that moral order is being eroded--is 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 Cahners Business Information.