This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.
Jack Through the Looking-Glass (or Wallace in Wonderland)
by Karoline Leach
Was Lewis Carroll Jack the Ripper?
Well, the short answer (actually, the only answer) is - no. There is no evidence anywhere connecting him to the crimes, or even to suggest that he was in London at any of the right times. He is, in short, a non-starter of a suspect. His life may not have been blameless or entirely without scandal, but no one has ever suggested he might have been a serial killer. No one, that is, but Richard Wallace.
Wallace, who describes himself as a "psychotherapist," pointed the finger at Carroll in his rather bizarre book Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend. He based his accusation on anagrams he constructed from Carroll's works. This argument is not, it has to be admitted, terribly convincing; the anagrams themselves are even less so.
In 1888, Carroll - or Charles Dodgson, to use his real name - was a successful middle-aged bachelor. In addition to being a best-selling author, he was also an Oxford don and ex-mathematical lecturer. He spent part of his year in residence at his Oxford College Christ Church, and took extended summer vacations by the sea in his alternative residence of Eastbourne, a small town on the south coast. The year after the Whitechapel murders, 1889, Dodgson published two books: The Nursery 'Alice,' a rewriting of the famous story for very small children, and a novel called Sylvie and Bruno. It is Wallace's contention that these two works contain extensive anagrams that prove that Carroll and his Oxford colleague Thomas Vere Bayne were both responsible for the Whitechapel murders.
This is perhaps an interesting theory. But it finds a major difficulty in the fact that Wallace cannot seem to discover good anagrams without cheating.
When he switches letters, or leaves them out, then Wallace can produce passages which have words like "ripper" and "whore" in them. For example, he takes this passage from Dodgson's Nursery 'Alice:'
'So she wandered away through the wood, carrying the ugly
little thing with her. And a great job it was to keep hold of it,
it wriggled about so. But at last she found out that the proper
way was to keep tight hold of its foot and its right ear,'
and by simply dropping a few letters and changing an "o" into an "i" turns it into:
"She wriggled about so! But at last Dodgson and Bayne found
a way to keep hold of the fat little whore. I got a tight hold of
her and slit her throat, left to right. It was tough, wet, disgusting,
too. So weary of it, they threw up - jack the Ripper."
This doesn't make much grammatical sense, but it is at least on message. But when Wallace stoops to saying things like "If we remove eight letters, bringing the fifty letters down to forty-two, we have a manifesto. . . ," or when he doesn't switch letters, but tries to work with what is actually there, in Carroll's text, the results are less happy:
"Then d'file noses, lad!"
"Rip no gay peter foreskin."
"Ah, pants and orgasm hero poet am I!"
"I believe the Fathers condemn penile nutrition."
"Urine! Sponge 't."
At first glance, they don't look much like an encoded confessional. In fact, they sound more like the kind of conversation employed by lonely and bedraggled people on late-night trains who are having trouble with those voices in their heads. However, Wallace finds in these and similar statements the proof that Carroll was a disordered homosexual psychopath with a mother fixation who vented his hatred of women and his resentment of his own homosexual rape in the murder and mutilation of five (or eight or nine, he seems unsure) women in the autumn of 1888.
How about this one:
"Dodgson and Bayne seethe, tune, hone a weird way - any way -
to laud my father's holy work and let the hate vent."
"I crave lamb coitus, save up fellatio poison."
This is Wallace's version of the title of Dodgson's anti-vivisection paper Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection. Wallace tells us it is a "hidden defense of bestiality;" he doesn't mention what that has to do with Jack the Ripper. But never fear, for Wallace informs us that Dodgson's work is simply bursting with encoded confessions to sexual abuse and / or murder. The Hunt for the Snark: An Agony in Six Fits is, says our man, replete with masturbatory and anal-erotic themes, and the title itself is a thin disguise for three blazing declarations:
"None hunt the King of Hearts in the gay night fits,"
"They, the Uranian kings, often hit on night fags,"
"The king of urnings hateth any Onanite fights."
Neither is Wallace shy of putting forward other - non-anagrammed - "corroboration" of his theory. He suggests, for example, that the lines from Dodgson's nonsense poem The Mad gardener's Song, "He thought he saw an Argument / That proved he was the Pope" is a reference to Mitre Square, because popes wear mitres. More obscurely, he asks at one point, "is there a connection between the victim being murdered in Buck's Row, Dodgson's writings on 'sport' and the deerstalker hat seen in the area?"
He can also see patterns in the ages of the murdered women. He observes that the number 42 was clearly significant to Dodgson. And he is undoubtedly correct, since it appears in a great deal of his fiction; "Rule 42" in Alice is "All persons more than a mile high to leave the court." In The Hunting of the Snark, there is Rule 42 of the Code, "No one shall speak to the man at the helm, and the man at the helm shall speak to no one," which, by the way, Wallace demonstrates to be an anagram of "No one shall spanketh the hot male meat, and the hot male meat shall spanketh no one."
Wallace then tries to show that all the murdered women's ages were "connected" to the "Rule of 42," and he does it like this:
Emma Smith (whom Wallace claims as the first victim) was forty-five years old. Forty-five, of course, is exactly three more than forty-two.
Martha Tabram was killed with thirty-nine stab wounds - and she was thirty-nine years old. Thirty-nine - as Wallace points out - is three less than forty-two. And thus, we have a "pattern."
Elizabeth Stride, of course, was forty-five. Again, three more than forty-two.
Catherine Eddowes was forty-three, which seems to break the pattern. But Wallace thinks she cannot really count, because having just been released from jail, she couldn't have been "selected" in advance. A rush job, in other words - no time for fine details.
Mary Kelly, the last of the "canonical five," was apparently twenty-five. But, Wallace argues reasonably, Dodgson might have thought she was twenty-four - after all, he had a lot on his mind and several modern authors make the same mistake. Twenty-four, of course, is forty-two backwards.
Could all of this be coincidence?
But the ace up Wallace's sleeve - more powerful even than his anagrams - is "The Druitt Connection."
Montague Druitt, another and very reasonable suspect for the Whitechapel murders, was an 1880 graduate of New College, Oxford, and can thus be seen as a sort of 'colleague' of Dodgson's. He was a teacher at Blackheath until his sudden and untimely death, apparently by suicide, in December 1888. There is, admittedly, no evidence that Dodgson and Druitt ever met, but - Wallace is quick to point out - no actual proof that they didn't. So from this, and from a mention in Dodgson's diary of a man called "Drewett" -different spelling and most definitely not our Montague - whom Dodgson put up for the night on December 12, 1878, Wallace constructs a theory.
He connects Bayne with Druitt by figuring that they might both have been involved with the Reverend Samuel Barnett's East End mission. Though he doesn't actually say why. And he connects Dodgson with Druitt's home, Blackheath, by pointing out Dodgson knew a girl who lived there.
"Very tenuous connections," he writes. "Or are they?" Indeed, Wallace has evidence that they are not tenuous at all. He continues, "As we complete the analysis of a Dodgson / Druitt relationship, it is worth examining the suicide note found among Druitt's belongings." And he does - and he discovers an anagram. Apparently, the real meaning of Montague's tragic little letter is not
"Since Friday I felt I was going to be like mother, and the best
thing for me was to die,"
"I fib, idiots. I - we - are fine faggot killers. C. Dodgson,
T. Bayne threw me into the Thames."
The subsequent book is slightly confused and unclear, but I think he concludes from this that Dodgson was blackmailing Druitt to make him go mad. Or alternatively (he isn't sure), that it was part of a complex plot to disparage the monarchy, or possibly the Jews. Anyhow, Dodgson pushed Druitt into the Thames and then fabricated an (anagrammed) suicide note, and all because of that "Rule 42 of the Code" which we mentioned earlier. You see, Wallace tells us ominously, "There were 42 pupils at the Blackheath school where Druitt taught."
Unaccountably, his readers and reviewers have tended to be less than convinced than Wallace is himself. It has been observed by one such - Edward Wakeling, the editor of Dodgson's published diaries - that Wallace's theory tends to ignore some slightly crucial details.
For example, he points out that on April 3, 1888, when Emma Smith was murdered, Dodgson was in residence at his Oxford college, unable to walk due to an attack of "synovitis" of the knees. On August 31, the day Polly Nichols died, he was at Eastbourne in the company of an actress friend, Isa Bowman, who was staying at the same boarding-house as him and would probably have noticed an extended trip into London and subsequent blood-soaked return. On September 8, when Annie Chapman died, and September 30, the night of the 'double event,' Dodgson was still at Eastbourne, still with Isa.
Thomas Vere Bayne, meanwhile, his supposed accomplice, went to France on September 1 and remained there until October 5.
Wallace also has to contend with the fact that Bayne, the trusty sidekick, was then nearly sixty and suffering from such acute back pain that during the summer he wrote in his diary "can barely move - pain great." Wallace is aware of this, but counters it by pointing out that the word "bosses" appears in Bayne's diary between August 1 and 16. A fact of such obvious import that he does not even bother to tell us what it might mean.
However, on November 9, the night of Mary Kelly's murder, both men were back in Oxford and could, as Wallace points out, have taken the train to Whitechapel to do the deed. So, providing we have no problem with the idea of two elderly and slightly infirm gentlemen hobbling painfully around Whitechapel looking for ladies of doubtful virtue, asking them their ages and doing a quick bit of figuring on the back of an envelope before finally escorting Mary Jane off to her lodgings for some slow and creaky dismemberment, then Wallace is okay here.
But sadly, there are other major and seemingly fatal inconsistencies in Wallace's thesis.
For example, The Mad Gardener's Song in Sylvie and Bruno, from which Wallace draws several of his anagrams, may have been published in 1889, as Wallace says, but it was actually written two years earlier and was sent to the illustrator on August 27, 1887. So, if he wants to find anagrammed confessions of the Whitechapel murders in this poem, Wallace has to explain how Dodgson could have written it a whole twelve months before the murders actually happened!
And of course, in the final analysis, Wallace's theory is rendered null by the fact that one could rearrange the words in any piece of writing anywhere and make half-connected sentences suggestive of just about anything. The very first sentence on the opening page of Winnie the Pooh, for example,
"Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now,"
can be turned into
"Stab red red women! CR is downing whores - AA."
Obviously, the "CR" is "Christopher Robin," who is thus revealed as an infant psychopath.
For anyone who knows Dodgson's work and his mastery of all word-games, the idea that he could perpetuate "anagrams" as messy and meaningless as the ones Wallace 'finds' is almost more unbelievable than the image of him hanging round Whitechapel with a big knife. In fact, all Wallace really succeeds in demonstrating is that Dodgson used the same alphabet as everyone else in the Western world, and that therefore his words can be rearranged to make other words - including rather rude ones about having sex with sheep, ripping ladies open and throwing young men into rivers.
From an historical and biographical context, Wallace's contention is valueless. Yet, his belief that Dodgson was the Ripper has more in common with manistream "Carroll scholarship" than might at first be thought.
"Lewis Carroll" has always been at the centre of a powerful mythology. His Alice books have tapped into the depths of the collective psyche in ways we cannot and never will fully understand. In some curious way he seems to have told an allegorical story of what it is to be human, confused and alone in a mad and infinite universe. The depth of his Alice's significance is expressed in a bizarre need to make him - her creator - as symbolic as she is herself. In fact, he has been sort of co-opted into the whole Alice legend, blended into the story, so that the how and when of its first telling has become almost as important as the story itself. Alice is as much about a "golden afternoon" when a shy clergyman told a story to a little girl he adored as it is about a strange venture to Wonderland.
And the "shy clergyman" at the heart of this story has become that strange and inexplicable thing - an icon. A symbol of some collective human need. He was seen as a "scholar-saint" who avoided the adult world, a "perpetual child" who could only relate to children; a tragic deviant whose lifelong passion for a child - Alice Liddell - fired his burning creativity. As an icon to "otherness" did "Carroll" become famous and infamous. For almost a century his image has been repeated and repeated, embellished and embellished, repeated and embellished in reputedly "scholarly" biographies, dramatised by Dennis Potter and Jonathan Miller.
Yet he never existed.
The "shy clergyman" with his incapacitating stammer, social isolation and unrequited passion for the "real Alice" is as invented as his name, "Lewis Carroll." The real man - Charles Dodgson - was none of those things. The prima facie documentation surrounding his life - his letters and his diaries - show conclusively that he led a recognisably normal life. He was an ambitious man who was keen to succeed as writer and photographer. Socially competent, with a passion for the bohemian worlds of theatre and art. A bachelor, who enjoyed serial-friendships with women - some married, some not - that often brought him into conflict with the "moral majority" of his time.
But the reality of his life, with its suggestions of sexual activity, its moral ambiguities, small selfishnesses and ordinary grubby adulthood, was simply not what anyone wanted to believe about the author of Alice. And so, after his death, he was simply rebuilt in a different, "better" image. For the Victorians and Edwardians, he became the ultimate symbol of innocence, of the elf-like and unworldly soul of Man before the Fall, whose life must be seen to have been beyond the taint of adult corruption.
For the modern world, he became the symbol of hypocrisy, of secret appetites; the disordered sage, the patron saint of Freudian deviancy.
Looked at in this way, Richard Wallace's claim that Dodgson was Jack the Ripper is only an extreme expression of the existing trend. There is no evidence - anywhere - to support Wallace's claim. But then, there is no evidence at all - anywhere - to support the story of Dodgson's supposed 'paedophilia' or supposed marriage proposal to child-Alice, and that has never stopped anyone believing in it and asserting it with mass authority.
All these images - of "Carroll" as saint, or Carroll as Dennis Potter's sweaty-palmed deviant, or indeed, Carroll as the Whitechapel murderer - are about the triumph of imagination over reality. They are not any kind of truth. They were never about truth. They are about the aspiration to believe. They belong to the reaching and hope-filled end of the historical spectrum, where things are believed because they cannot be disproved, rather than for any positive evidence in their favour. Where Elvis and the Loch Ness monster cavort happily together, where alien spacecraft abduct peaceful citizens from their beds, and James Maybrick wrote a diary. . .
In this world, Lewis Carroll or James Maybrick or Prince Eddy or anyone else can easily become the Ripper, because all that is needed as evidence is the human will to believe in the untrue or the very, very unlikely. And that is never in short supply. Human beings hate open questions or unsolvable mysteries. Our principal delusion is our determination to think we understand ourselves, our world and the universe, and when we don't have real answers we speedily make them up.
In the literature of the Whitechapel Murders, we find the same handful of circumstantial evidence used as "proof" against upwards of 60 different "suspects," all but four or five of whom must be regarded as extremely unlikely, if not crazy, candidates. From Madame Blavatsky to Leopold II of Belgium, from Neill Cream to Algernon Swinburne, from James Maybrick to Lewis Carroll, they all have their advocates, who have all based their belief on the impossibility of proving a negative. Happily unhindered by reason, these theorists take labyrinthine tours through winding avenues of "what-ifs" and "maybes."
What if the King of Belgium had visited the Congo?
And what if, while there, he witnessed atrocities that made him develop a taste for sadism?
And what if his London house had been the one that Robert Lees' daughter said her father' suspect lived in?
And what if he had made unrecorded visits to that house at the time of the murders?
Well then - he would probably have been the Ripper. Wouldn't he?
Likewise, what if Neill Cream had a double?
And what if one of them was serving time while the other was running round Whitechapel being Jack?
What if the Royal Family were involved? Or the Masons? Or both?
What if Maybrick really had been a drug addict?
And what if he'd had an office in East London?
And what if there had been a "Poste House" somewhere - anywhere - in the Western world at that time?
And what if the ink is really old?
Then, by golly, we have our guy.
And of course, what if Carroll had been a homosexual with a mother-fixation who composed all of his work to be read as bad anagrams of a life of crime?
Well, why not? In fact, why not all of them together in a cabal to dwarf the Knight conspiracy theory? After all, if Carroll, Maybrick, Cream, Blavatsky and Leopold, King of the Belgians were all involved in a huge plot, then with that kind of world-wide influence in high places, it would naturally be totally covered up, leaving no evidence at all.
And there is no evidence at all. So what more do you need than that?
The will to believe distorts our perceptions of anything - turn black into white, reality into fantasy, and it is always defended by the same mantra - "you can't prove it didn't happen." Which, of course, is often true, because as has been remarked many times, it is very, very difficult to prove a negative. But the logical result of such a position is that everything, however improbable, must be believed until someone manages to conclusively disprove it. If Carroll or Maybrick or Eddy can all just "be" the Ripper until proved otherwise, then so can Mark Twain, Ellen Terry, Scott Joplin, Richard Branson with a time-machine or the entire chorus of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
The bits of the moon no one has yet visited are indeed made of cheese.
Glenn Miller didn't die - he went to Mexico, had extensive cosmetic surgery and returned as Marilyn Monroe.
The earth is a tiny lollipop in a huge pan-dimensional sweet shop run by beings from Vega who look like carrots.
Take your pick - believe as many of these as you like - no one has ever conclusively disproved any of them, and it's likely no one ever will. But, as one noted author has remarked, historical inquiry is supposed to be an analysis of the probable, not an accretion of undisprovable negatives. It's been said that you could probably make some sort of law that reads: "The human capacity to believe in any given concept will automatically increase in inverse proportion to the amount of data available to support it."
Believing - defined as pretending things are the way they almost certainly aren't - is a completely human activity. Dogs don't do it. Elephants don't do it. Even our closest relatives, chimps, don't seem to do it. It's a quality all our own. The essence of what it is to be human. It seems we evolved the need to deceive ourselves as a kind of adjunct to our ability to reason, and before very long we had populated the world with ourselves and our forests of false perceptions, myths, legends, faiths and bigotries. But why?
Why have we been implanted with this discontent with the real? Why this perpetual itch to re-build reality slightly to the left and much, much bigger? Why have we developed the ability to reason, only to have it overthrown by our even greater ability to tell ourselves huge, absurd and throbbing lies? It's hard to see any potential evolutionary advantage. What would be the gain for early hominids in being able to convince themselves that lions weren't really dangerous - or that flowers talked to them, or the sun was a giant artichoke, or whatever? It's hard to imagine how we ever survived to populate the earth. Why didn't Adam and Eve become convinced that God (or the Giant Artichoke) was telling them to kill each other and just hack themselves to oblivion in year dot?
Of course, it isn't only the wacky or the marginal that is infected in this way. As Lewis Carroll scholarship so well illustrates, unsubstantiated belief and pure faith-driven madness can proliferate anywhere. There are scientists using the same fragments of data to simultaneously and conclusively "prove" the existence and non-existence of God. There are economists who argue that we just have to destroy the earth we inhabit and slowly poison ourselves to death because the "market" tells us to. You could argue that the only difference between Wallace and a political economist is that the political economist has managed to convince more people that his fantasy is real. . .but that wouldn't be a very comfortable thought. So let's not think it.
And lastly - with a curious perversity - through all his forest of speculation and extraordinary inferencing, Wallace neglects to mention the only direct reference there is in Dodgson's own diary to the Whitechapel murderer. On August 26, 1891, Dodgson records talking to "Dr. Dabbs," an acquaintance on the Isle of Wight, on the subject of "his very ingenious theory about 'Jack the Ripper.'"
He did not mention what that "very ingenious" theory was. Or if it had anything at all to do with anagrams.
But why was this Dr. Dabbs so interested in the murders anyway?
Was it personal experience?
What if he had a house in London?
And an appetite for sadism learned in the Congo?
And a diary no one has found yet?
And a big, big knife?
Can anyone prove it didn't happen?
Karoline Leach is the author of In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll. This essay was originally given as a talk at the first US Ripper Conference on April 8-9, 2000, and we are grateful to Miss Leach for permission to reprint it here.