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Representing Reality: Reflections on "The 'Ripperologist' Interview"
Alex Chisholm

Having read Paul Daniel's account of his "'Ripperologist' Interview" with Paul Feldman, Anne Graham and Carol Emmas, first published, I believe, courtesy of Mr. Feldman, in Stephen Ryder's Internet 'Casebook', and reproduced in February's 'Ripperologist', I must confess to being somewhat surprised, if not dismayed, by the new editor of Ripperologist's apparent acquiescence to the Maybrick cause.

I too, regrettably, have some awareness of the blurring that can be effected by exposure to Mr. Feldman's 'almost stream of consciousness' and the difficulty this engenders in retaining a critical detachment or informed opinion. In my experience, however, reconsideration of the relevant facts merely confirmed the certainty that this diary - every word of which Mr. Feldman claims to have proved - is no more than a joke.

Surely by now few can fail to have been advised of the 'staggering' amount of material uncovered as a result of Mr. Feldman's research. But, as I understand it, the bulk of this research has been directed towards obtaining documents and information relating to characters whose only connection with Whitechapel murders derives from that decidedly derisory diary. I therefore suspect that any of this eagerly awaited new evidence, which is pertinent to Jack the Ripper and not purely coincidental, will have any number of truly 'rational' explanations. Explanations that will not require we suspend disbelief and accept the diary as genuine or Mr. Maybrick as Jack.

My confidence in arriving at a conclusion others will undoubtedly condemn as premature derives from the certainty that no amount of new evidence will enable Maybricknicks, try as they might, to circumvent the central piece of evidence against their case, the diary itself. A document which, in my estimation, is literally dripping with examples, often perhaps deliberately introduced, that confirm it to be pure fantasy.

In view of this, aside from observations such as Ann Graham not resembling 'in the slightest' her picture in Shirley Harrison's book - an observation which could be seen, by some, to reflect more generally on how nearly Ms. Harrison's '..Diary of..' as a whole resembles reality - the most significant aspect of Mr. Daniel's article for me was the confident assertion that 'intelligent and experienced authors and researchers' have failed to grasp the subtle 'real' meaning of words, presumably in the diary and pertinent documents. An assertion which may well indicate that notions of correctly interpreting the 'real' meaning of language in the diary will feature prominently in imminent contributions from the Maybrick camp. That being the case, while recognition of the centrally important role of language in any historiographical analysis should be applauded, I would suggest, and current academic opinion would confirm, that anyone believing the use of language in an actual, or alleged, historical text can be invested by us with a single, determinable, 'real' meaning appears to be labouring under considerable misapprehension.

In the metaphoric terrain of language meaning is derived from difference and always deferred. What a word denotes and what it is taken to mean are seldom the same thing. Does the Sun, for example, actually 'rise' every morning ? Can any work of history, in reality, be found resting upon the 'original documents' on which it is 'based' ? Or indeed, is any of Mr. Feldman's evidence truly 'concrete'? I think not, yet it is just such fundamental problems of language and its meanings that are inevitably magnified whenever we venture into the past.

In reality, if such a thing ever existed, we simply have no means of acquiring 'The', singular, 'real' meaning of any historical text and perhaps, for historians, this is no bad thing. If such texts were possessed of only one 'real' meaning the first halfway competent work to be 'based' on original sources would negate all subsequent histories in any given area and that would be that. History would remain constant, no debate, 'The End'. All very straightforward I'm sure but also very naive. The making of history is an interpretative process. Perceptions of history do change with our own changing perceptions. Original sources and the interpretation of them are constantly being interpreted and reinterpreted. They are continually being invested with new meaning which is no less 'real' than that derived from previous, informed, readings.

Taking Mr. Daniel's own ostensibly straightforward example - for which he provides a perfectly correct meaning, and one, I believe, even most 'intelligent and experienced authors and researchers' would concur with - it should be recognised that if this phrase could possibly be misinterpreted, in the manner described, by a wayward reader, then it could equally have been written with just such a meaning in mind by a duplicitous author. Even in today's politically correct world few, if any, have the complete command of language, the patience, or even the desire, to always communicate exactly what they mean. It is always possible that an author may simply have used a word in an unconventional way, intending it to denote something other than its most immediately apparent meaning. That this is not the case in the example given is only conclusively discernible because we have been directed towards the intended meaning by the author himself. A luxury which even diary proponents should accept is not normally afforded to readers of genuine historical texts. In such circumstances we can only hope to approach the most likely intended meaning, as it appears to us, and to do so we must have regard for more than a superficial assessment of the literal denotations of individual words. Consideration of the context in which such words were written and are presented, along with the possible motives of their author and the influences and attitudes that are likely to have informed their writing, are all of equal, if not greater, import. From this perspective it seems clear that, with naiveté negated, the critical interpretation placed on the diary's use of language by intellectual, authoritative opinion should not be so lightly dismissed.

To emphasise the point with Mr. Daniel's given example, for example, we should ask why it would have been deemed necessary to write this in the first place. The most obvious reason, from a historiographical perspective, would be to mask the interpretative role of the author and imbue the work to which it refers with a privileged status derived from the use of 'original documents' not believed to be obtainable by works relying on secondary material. To this end any interpretation that takes our example to imply the work in question is more dependant on 'original documents' than was actually the case would be desirable from the author's point of view. The author may well have hoped their words would be taken to mean more than they could legitimately lay claim to. To utilise Mr. Daniel's word, they would have left themselves 'leeway'. Now any inscription which leaves its author 'leeway' cannot be taken to have a single, fixed, unchanging, 'real' meaning. This of course is not to say that historians can simply invent whatever meaning happens to suit their particular purpose. Some interpretations - invariably those less reliant on coincidence, 'curious connection' and conjecture - will always be more readily acceptable as more nearly representing reality than others. It simply needs to be emphasised that the loose often vague inscriptions in historical texts leave the way open to a number of differing interpretations, none of which can be conclusively defined as the 'real' meaning.

And so at last we come to the incredible diary of Jack the Ripper. A document that excels in almost raising the loose vagaries of language to an art form. It is in the mind of the reader, with a little direction from the author, that the image of Maybrick as Jack must be conjured. It is the credulous who must attempt to make facts fit. Others will doubtless draw their own conclusions. The author of the piece does no more than play on words while revisiting some enduring, though long-since 'Done to Death', 'Myths and Legends... of Jack the Ripper'. In vain will we search for the reality of Whitechapel murders here.

That being said, however, I feel any venture into language puts the Maybricknick cause on very dangerous ground and should therefore be welcomed. For even if we agree to play hunt some literal 'real' meaning then phrases such as 'I have read all of my deeds' must be seen as significant. Not, in this phrase, I have read all about all of my deeds. Just simply 'read'. Perhaps an oversight. Perchance a slip of the pen. But also, more probable possibly, an author's admission that s/he has done no more than read of the deeds others would have us believe he committed.

Then of course we must consider the complete and striking absence - in a work supposedly written by a serial, mutilative murderer - of any language likely to cause undue offence or hamper publication. Perhaps Mr. Maybrick, in the drug-crazed condition that led him to misremember crucial aspects of his crimes, wrote his diary with a view to publication and conscious of the censor's pen. Then again, perhaps 'Jack' had as much input into this diary as he did in the 'Dear Boss' and otherly penned 'Lusk' letters which find so much resonance in the piece.

Studies of the recorded thought of real mutilative murderers reveal the fantasising of deeds to be committed, as might be expected, far exceeding the barbarity actually inflicted on victims. This is, however, an apparent commonplace which appears to be so tellingly reversed in the so-called diary. A diary in which the author's 'thoughts' never amount to anything more than a pale reflection of the horror of their inspiration. Although seemingly overlooked by diary experts this perhaps more than anything should indicate that the Maybrick journal presents us not with a diary but a deficient documentary of Jack the Ripper.

Language, or more particularly what informs its use, can also help us assess notions such as the one currently abroad that, while this may not actually be James Maybrick's own written account, the diary could represent an early twentieth century fabrication by someone who knew the truth of his involvement. Now while the replication of language from official files has been among the principle indicators of the diary's modern construction I accept that this cannot, on its own, negate the nevertheless improbable possibility that the diary was penned by someone involved in the original investigation with access to the files. The whole page entry, however, informing us that 'This clever Sir Jim, - he loves his whims - tonight he will call - and take away all. ha ha ha ha'. appears less accommodating of such a notion. Of course, superficially, this extract retains an ambiguity when viewed in a cultural, if not intellectual, vacuum but, once it is understood that few, if any, can completely divorce themselves from the culture they inhabit, I feel sure anyone giving due consideration to this entry will realise that neither early twentieth century chroniclers nor whimsical cannibals in Victorian London would have been familiar with the concept of calling a take-away.

The 'clever' conjunction of 'whims', 'tonight', 'call' and 'take away' 'ha ha' - by one who delights in boasting the clues inscribed in their 'funny little rhymes' will have 'the fools' running around like 'headless chickens' - is so blatantly indicative I cannot believe its 'true' significance has not been recognised by anyone claiming to understand the 'real' meaning of language in this diary. Temporarily devoid of imaginative inspiration our diarist appears to have decided to take a typically late twentieth century respite and in the process has perhaps given us the only truly authentic diary entry in the entire piece.

It is such examples, and the many more, that seem to make calls to regard this diary as a historical text, from a Maybricknick point of view, appear particularly ill-advised. From my own perspective neither the diary nor the case so far presented in its favour come close to approaching the rigorous standards required by even the most basic school-room historiography, and viewing the diary as a historical text merely confirms its complete inability to be invested with such status. Those who call for it to be regarded thus appear oblivious to the close, critical, analysis of their 'diary's' structure, content, style and language that this would demand. Analysis which I feel inevitably undermines the Maybricknick cause at every turn and provides some of the clearest evidence of the falsity of their anachronistic authority. A falsity, moreover, which occasionally appears to be deliberately exposed through the author's carefully crafted use of language.

Hence my dismay that, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and fundamental historiographical deficiencies notwithstanding, the evidently unwary continue to be converted. My only consolation is the belief that such conversions may occur less from conviction than from confusion fuelled by the irrelevant interjections of seemingly committed Maybricknicks. It has long been a well-tried strategy for supporters of a lost cause to seek to divert sustained and withering attack, even from a few, onto spurious targets which can be more readily defended. Certain 'methoughts' that detractors of this 'Victorian artefact' 'do protest too much', or disparaging notions of the existence of a 'Nest of Forgers', appear to be but two cases in point.

I do not believe it is common practice among deservedly 'respected researchers' to view sustained condemnation of their work as confirmation of its facticity, and for me the continuance of ink spilled over this fertile fantasy reflects more the seeming inability of diary proponents to adequately address the fundamental inaccuracies of their source text and the case built upon it, or recognise the 'truth', even when these are clearly and consistently laid before them. Neither do I find any obligation to accept that anyone purporting to believe in the diary's authenticity must have been involved in a conspiracy to produce the work at the outset. It is patently not necessary to be in league with the hoaxer in order to be instrumental in promoting a hoax. All that is required is a willingness to disregard well established historiographical evidence and a tendency to elevate coincidence, 'curious connections' and conjecture to the status of fact.

Nevertheless, that being said,- and of course without suggesting so august a gentleman could be a party to such historiographical absurdities - I to eagerly await, although in vain at present it seems, Mr. Feldman's 'Final Chapter'. My anticipation, however, is born of the heartfelt hope that considered and informed response to this forthcoming work will ensure it will truly 'prove' to be the last time we see this diary presented as Jack's. Thereby genuinely concluding the long overdue 'Final Chapter' of James Maybrick's imaginative intrusion into the serious study of Whitechapel murders that will enable more studied 'Ripperologists' to return to 'real' Ripperologising.

Well, even if reality escapes us, we can all live in hope. Can't we?

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