Friday, April 13, 2012

You're A Naughty One, Saucy Jack.

I have always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper since I was little. I was intrigued by the mystery, circumstance and era and devoured anything I could about it since I was little, I even used it in one of my final papers in my MA. Obviously, I don't find the murder of women particularly salient but the ritualistic aspect and the continued theories, suspects and the Gothic element of it continue to captivate me. This has led me to explore the fictional history of Jack the Ripper as well my favourites being Murder By Decree, Time After Time and From Hell. (a more complete list of the Ripper's film/literary appearances can be found here)

For those of you that need a quick refresher, Jack the Ripper refers to a still unidentified serial killer who killed five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London from 1888 to 1891. The name comes from a series of letters that were sent to Scotland Yard that contained information only someone who was at the site of the murders. The letters were signed "Jack the Ripper" and the return address was "From Hell". Even now, that still gives me the fucking creeps.

From these very slim facts multiple theories have arisen as to the Ripper's identity and motivation, which of course makes him ripe for literary usage. On top of that those three years were an incredibly interesting time period; science was expanding our world, medicine was advancing at a rapid speed, the social status quo was beginning to be challenged and the fall out was soon to come. It was a period, to say the least, that helped shape our modern world. Yet, even in a time of incredible advancement no one could figure out who the murderer was. Did that mean it was a conspiracy or was there a killer out there clever enough to evade detection?

The truth seems to be that the villain in most of this was the aristocracy. Jack the Ripper was most likely an educated man, and is repeatedly depicted wearing a top hat and suit. The Ripper became a symbol for the lower and middle class uneasiness with the level of power that the upper class sought to maintain. The Ripper lore has also fed into the anxiety and fear that surrounds a colonialist attitude towards sexuality. With five prostitutes being attacked and murdered gruesomely, wasn't that just retribution for their wanton ways? Of course not, the Jack the Ripper mystery serves to illuminate the lack of choice provided to women at the time and provides a look at some institutionalized aggression towards women.

Five years ago, I was in London visiting family and I finally had the time to take the Jack the Ripper walking tour. Tourist-y as hell? Yes, but still an interesting social examination. The Ten Bells pub where the 5 women frequented still stands and is still in operation. The sites of their murders have been bulldozed and turned into offices and concourses where people eat their lunches. The once slum now regularly has property that sells for well over a million pounds. The lore of Jack the Ripper becomes even more terrifying if you think that perhaps, the upper classes won out and now we're all trying to play their game.

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