Julius Angerstein’s 1790 Authentic Account tells, among many others, the story of a Mrs. Smyth who was accompanied down Fleet Street by a man who spoke to her in “the most shocking and indecent language” (9).2 When she stopped and knocked at a friend’s door, the man violently struck her several times on her breast, hip, and thigh. According to Angerstein, Smyth had been “stabbed by a sharp instrument” but was unaware of her wounds until she entered the house and discovered an “effusion of blood” (11). Similarly, according to the newspaper The Diary, young Charlotte Payne
During the spring and early summer of 1790, dozens of such stories emerge in which women are cut or stabbed before the door of a house by a foul-mouthed man who has escorted them there against their wishes; in most of the stories, the women only realize they have been wounded once they are indoors. It is an odd repeated detail: why would women so consistently fail to realize the nature of an attack
until it is over and they have crossed a threshold? But in the London depicted by these stories, the spaces on either side of domestic doorways are figured as separate epistemological realms. Things women can know with absolute certainty inside a home seem to be inscrutable on the streets, rendered in these stories as a domain of ambiguity and uncertainty. The early parts of these narratives suggest that, for Londoners of the period, questions swirled in particular around public interactions between men and women: in what ways is it appropriate for men to approach and speak to women whom they encounter on the street? Is it okay for a woman to reject a strange man’s offer to “see her home”? Just how much discomfort or even fear is normal or acceptable in such encounters? The fact that the attacker-popularly dubbed “The Monster”—in these stories often initially behaves according to the codes of masculine “civility” points to an additional uncertainty underlying such questions: how can a woman know whether the person offering to escort her home is a man or a Monster?