There are times when it feels like the entire neo-Victorian enterprise is built on representations of female corpses--the more brutalized, the better. Dead female bodies, especially the bodies of prostitutes, are one of the key signifiers of neo-Victorian revisionism: commodified, victimized, and ultimately reduced to waste matter, these bodies bear the weight of many neo-Victorian novels' assumptions about patriarchy, economics, gender, and sexuality, especially as they played out at the end of the nineteenth century. That is, the dead female body in general and the dead prostitute's body in particular crystallize neo-Victorianism's sense that nineteenth-century women were forever being made and remade into disposable objects for men's (frequently sadistic) pleasures, in a way that miniaturized other social relations (between the aristocracy and the poor, for example).
This is a roundabout way of suggesting that neo-Victorian fiction's obsession with Jack the Ripper sometimes takes narratives down unintended paths. One of the most recent expeditions into Ripperfic, Sarah Pinborough's neo-Victorian Gothic Mayhem, is a case in point. Mayhem actually combines Jack the Ripper with a lesser-known contemporary series of killings, the Thames Torso Murders--then seeks to explain the latter (and the impulse for the former) by invoking a Eastern European vampire, the upir, which has hitchhiked to London on the back (literally) of a young Englishman. The narrative rotates through multiple POV characters, including the first-person POV of Dr. Thomas Bond. Bond joins up with a bizarre Catholic priest whose job description involves hunting down upirs, among other things, and a Jewish immigrant, Aaron Kosminski, who suffers from psychic visions; together, this sub-Draculaesque trio work together, not very affectionately, to do in the upir before it does in more women.
"Three, the power of three" (232), says Aaron, who for some reason points to "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" as an example of such symbolic power. (I thought he was Jewish?) In any event, the three men suggest a coming-together of the power of the Church, the professional sciences, and the common people against the supernatural menace posed by the upir. The novel operates according to conventional Victorian Gothic logic: Dr. Bond, who possesses a "rational brain" (184), is the professional gentleman who must learn to take instruction from both popular superstition (Aaron) and religious lore (the priest) before evil can be vanquished. "I knew my own mind was too rational to have created something like that" (258), Bond thinks to himself after seeing the upir. In this repetition of nineteenth-century Gothic in general and Dracula in particular, the "modern" man discovers that his own secular, empirical tools provide no means of handling the return of the supernatural repressed--which, here, is also foreign into the bargain. Notably, though, it is the Englishman who decides that he wants to have an "adventure" in Poland, despite the "unrest" (132), who brings the upir back with him, not the Polish immigrants (whose folkloric wisdom is key to solving the problem). In effect, the English traveler, taking his American friend's advice to "see" rather than "experience" the struggles of the people (132), is punished for his objectifying tourism: stumbling into places where he is neither wanted nor useful, the tourist lacks the popular wisdom that would warn him that not all boundaries can be charted on a map.
In case you'd like to avoid spoilers, I'll put the rest below the fold.
As the narrative plays out, it becomes clear that this upir is only interested in possessing male hosts and feeding on the blood of female bodies. Women in this novel possess little to no agency, serving as subordinate wives and mothers at best, impending victims at worst. "Women get so emotional," grumbles James Harrington, explaining why he wants his wife Juliana confined to the domestic sphere and away from his workplace. "I suppose [...] that she recalls you once told her she could help you in the office," replies Bond (242). Harrington's newfound antifeminism, which accompanies the collapse of his capitalist acumen, is the "realist" accompaniment to the upir: as the vampire maddens his host, the host in turn loses interest in women as anything but irrational bodies, suitable for food. He rapes, impregnates, and murders his previous, working-class love interest, in a horrific reworking of Victorian narratives about the sexual threat gentlemen pose to servants. Once again, the Victorian Male Monster stalks the streets. Significantly, Bond, Kosminski, and the priest are all celibate, possibly even asexual, at the time of the murder investigation, as if the only way men can "save" endangered women is to make them entirely without desire for bodies as such. Instead, the trio are all consumed themselves (Bond's drug addiction and sleeplessness, the priest's vocation, Kosminski's visions) in ways that interfere with their ability to work productively in the world (Bond has increasing difficulties with his job as a police surgeon, the priest does not "officiate" in any sense of the term, Kosminski can no longer cut hair). Paradoxically enough, even though the upir devours women, it disrupts British culture most significantly by making men dysfunctional--Harrington's inability to keep his business working properly being the most blatant example. The upir exacerbates both patriarchal and social hierarchies, as it were, makes their bloodiness so excessive as to be unmissable. Our celibate power trio, then, doesn't overturn patriarchy by getting rid of the upir; they simply make it comfortable again. "How could he be trusted to not to commit such awful acts again?" Bond worries about Harrington after the upir is destroyed. "And could I put Juliana through the terrible trauma of a trial?" (300) Bond justifies his summary execution of Harrington, that is, by adducing his own "proper" care for Harrington's wife--the good man to Harrington's weak-willed bad. (Apparently, being possessed by a vampire is a character flaw.) Whether we should take Bond's self-justification straight, of course, is an entirely different matter entirely.