Given as an oral presentation at the Jack the Ripper: The Fourth Biennial U.S. Conference, Baltimore, Maryland, April 23, 2006.
In the 1934 biography of Molly Hughes, a native Londoner who grew up during the 1870 and 80s, the presence of the Ripper bursts into the narrative as she thinks about the presence of the past, and the effects time has on panic:
…a cloud had been hanging over the town-a mental one in addition to the customary fogs. After the lapse of over forty years, Jack the Ripper has become as legendary as Dick Turpin, and to many he is almost a joke. No one can now believe how terrified and unbalanced we all were by his murders. A thriller in a book is quite different from a thriller around the corner. It seemed to be round the corner, although it all happened in the East End, and we were in the West; but even so, I was afraid to go out after dark, if only to post a letter (Hughes 362).
"Afraid to go out after dark," and afraid to walk to the letter box. Few people now know what this means in reality-to fear the out of doors. And yet all of us here know what it meant to the people of London in Autumn 1888 and to women in particular. Even in the safe neighborhoods to the west, and among the upper classes, women were afraid. Writers Philip Sugden, Jane Caputi and Judith Walkowitz have each come from a different practices to reaching this same conclusion about The Ripper: in his ritualized murders of poor women, The Ripper sent a message that women heard clearly: fear the street, don't go out. Caputi locates the psychological and cultural meaning of the Ripper's highly symbolic, ritualized murders in the writings of Emile Durkheim and Claude Levi Strauss: The former held that rituals were "symbolic representations of social relationships"(6) and the latter that rituals were acts that "penetrate the screen of consciousness to carry their message directly to the unconscious" (8). In the works of Jane Caputi, Andrea Dworkin and Judith Walkowitz, the message in violent murders of women was that woman was to be vanquished, humiliated, and set in a kind of cosmically appropriate place. All the big creation myths recap this so-called "essential" need for men to overcome the feminine. This conclusion takes on different meanings depending on which historical events you attach it to-if you care about labor history, a consideration of the Ripper crime will appear in context with the successful matchgirls strike that had ended a few weeks before the first canonical attack. If you study feminist history, a consideration of the Ripper's timing will resonate with other major legal changes: women had recently taken advantage of their rights to buy and manage property. Furthermore, reformer Octavia Hill was in the East End, purchasing buildings to create cheaper forms of housing for the poor. She was changing things for the poor, and giving hope to those who had none. Maybe the agency of women emerging to raise the status of poor women was too much for someone. If you are religious revival historian, the timing of the Ripper's attacks interestingly coincides with growing evangelicalism in the city and the boisterous temperance movement. Many took the attack on the prostitutes to be a sign of God's disapproval of women roaming the streets. If one has been studying the controversial Contagious Diseases Acts, there were people around who still wanted to enforce the acts again (Purvis, VanArsdel). Checking venereal disease was their object, but the force of their arguments targeted all the women near military bases, and not the diseases or the soldiers themselves (VanArsdel). Jack could have been a disgruntled supporter of the acts. As we can see, in each separate context there is a similar, awful meaning: the independent, sexually active, casually promiscuous woman was a threat to someone's perception of order and that threat could be answered with murder. Women should be safe behind doors if they wished to live. It's like an obscene exaggeration of every college board that decided not to give women medical degrees at this time, and the powerful people who begrudged women the vote. Many Victorian historians are beginning to see the emergence of women from the law of coverture as The topic of the nineteenth century.
Now, Why Is an English Professor at the Ripper Conference?
Many people agree that women historically faced severe limitations on their intellectual, financial and personal freedoms. It's a matter of fact, not debate. Today, however, we seldom discuss or even acknowledge that a hangover from the period exists in film, and more specifically in films about Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders. This blindness makes the cultural treatment of Jack the Ripper an absolutely a riveting subject to investigate with undergraduates. My course at Edmonds Community College on the Ripper is formally a course on research writing. But in reality it becomes an interrogation of cultural practices of the last 118 years, with the students relying on books and articles in their chosen fields to help them formulate critiques. Over the last two years I have observed and participated in many discoveries highly gratifying to a Ripperologist and a student of the Victorian era and I want to share these with you.
The Whitechapel Murders have received many different types of artistic treatment. There have been countless musicals written, 18 television productions, 22 radio plays, and 29 feature length films at last count (Colville). These films exert a lasting affect on all of us, and for some of us, they are the history of the period. The images we carry about with us about the Victorian era come from the 1950s and 60s treatments of the Jack the Ripper story. Some of us first became interested in the Ripper because of a movie. Further, the artistic preoccupation with the Whitechapel murders has been strong, steady and continuous. Memorable products of this preoccupation have been Iain Sinclair's wonderfully spooky novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, and Belloc Lowndes' novel The Lodger. Whatever it means to recur to a series of horrifying murders, we have been doing it for 118 years, and judging from the number of musicals and plays based on the murders, we will have this for another 118 years.
Now, while directors and writers develop new treatments of Jack the Ripper, promising new views on old subjects, they, well, they fail. They fail on a number of fronts. 1) There's the historical inaccuracy 2) There's the lack of audience expectation. We continue to see a loose treatment of the historic events. "Loose" took on new meaning when an incredibly clean and well-fed "Liz Stride" marched off to her death in the Hughes brother's From Hell (2001) and Fred Abberline poured himself into an opium den for a business meeting with his demons. We are all familiar with the older errors. My students love to point out the fresh, colorful clothes of the 1940s, 50s and 60s era film prostitutes after reading the painstaking description of what Ann Chapman was wearing when her body was recovered. Just the fact that the women scream in every film treatment is enough to launch three or four grumpy essays every quarter. My students are quick to establish the silence of the attacks, which in part contributed to the mass panic of the population and the spectacular news coverage (when I say "spectacular" I mean that as in "spectacle"-- they were able to create a sensation over the silence of the murders). Students like to see historical accuracy in the films, especially after reading Sugden and Rumbelow and Belloc-Lowndes. They admit that movies are bits of invention, and that they are created for certain audiences who would be sick if they saw the reality of 1888 Whitechapel. My students understand market forces that drive Hollywood decisions. We all do. It's that, and the desire to work with that which has brought me to you today. But first, my thesis, which involves the second way Ripper movies fail:
There are many ways of telling this story, but the movie productions most frequently return to the master criminal/master detective formula, ignoring the women in the story at best, or at worst, treating them like extras, sides of beef, or blockages in the narrative. Sherlock Holmes's encounter with Katherine Eddowes' corpse on the slab in Murder by Decree is spectacularly memorable in this respect. Playing Holmes, actor Christopher Plummer remarks: "I feel she'll be more help to us now than when she was alive." In other words, Now that she's a non-talking stiff, they can find more of real value out from her body. If you are only waking up now, I'm not exactly going off on some feminist rant alone, though that feminist rant is in here. What I'm talking about is the compulsive, unimaginative return to the old "Sherlock" master mind approach to the story. "It's me against him," the master detective says again and again. It's so formulaic, so popular, and so saturated in our English-speaking culture that when policemen encountered a mysterious serial killer in Yorkshire in the 70s, the same fantasy took over and the cops all fancied themselves pitted against the master criminal who was oops killing prostitutes, again. The northern police imagined they were pitted against a dashing, upper class, superhuman fiend and that they would have to use superhuman powers of mental detection to find the criminal. Neglecting ordinary old fashioned policework, the authorities overlooked the actual killer, Peter Sutcliffe, a truck driver who cruised the areas where prostitutes worked. They picked up Sutcliffe a number of times and released him because he was so unexceptional and unromantic. The Yorkshire Ripper's car was virtually rattling with murder weapons as he drove from one town to another, bashing women in their heads. The sleuths who picked him up only did so because Peter Sutcliffe was stupid enough to have stolen plates on his car (Burn) . The image of a great villain is a modern construction that really can't work, especially not now. Closer to the historical moment, Marie Belloc Lowndes posited an Avenger who left evidence all over the place.
AND, so back to the Ripper. We have no real rock solid evidence that the Ripper was truly a brilliant fellow. Now, I realize I may be treading on sacred territory for some, and I mean you no harm. I extracted this impression from studying the books of psychologists and enforcement specialists. My understanding of the personalities of serial killers comes from reading Professor Ronald M. Holmes' text on Profiling Violent Crimes, and Robert K. Ressler's Whoever Fights Monsters, a frank testimony about his years with the FBI, during which he organized a unit for gathering behavioral information on violent criminals. Both writers convinced me that sexual serial killers are neither interesting nor complex persons. A third writer, Richard Tithecott, convinced me that Jeffrey Dahmer, was so uninteresting that police entered his apartment, which was full of death-souvenirs, and walked out again, unworried. As far as the real Jack the Ripper goes, we don't know much, really, except that he knew the neighborhood well and could elicit the attentions of thirsty women who weren't particular. It doesn't add up to a very attractive or memorable guy. Neither do we have any amazingly slick coppers to cast in this drama. We know what Abberline looked like and we know that the police were flummoxed. So this story has been told for years with a heavy dose of male-oriented fantasy, starring a very handsome, thin, smart crime fighter who always corners the Ripper and finishes him. Or, as in the case of the 1965 Study in Terror, a crime fighter who chooses not to reveal the actual noble identity of the deceased killer out of deference to his wealthy family. At any rate, the story has been made into entertainment by manufacturing a male master detective who can demolish a male master killer.
And So Here's the Rub
It has always bothered me that the women have entered the entertaining narrative as objects and not subjects: as bodies, not minds. Although I am a horror buff, I am bored to tears by the method directors use to communicate the Ripper story. There are so many narrative directions that could be exploited but that never are…I am here to talk about those and think with you about the value and attraction of these alternate views. True, no female down in Whitechapel was declaiming in Latin or winning lawsuits. Many could barely read. Few would go out throwing punches to defend the abstract sense of justice. Many were bumbling bibulous characters who never spoke much and died quiet and horrible deaths. There were no female surgeons or lawyers there, though this was about to change. People claim that women weren't strong enough or violent enough to kill others. So the women could in no way distinguish themselves in this historic narrative, and certainly none came forward. But if the film narrative has been based on men's fantasies for the last 83 years, couldn't this be the time to employ female fantasies in the telling of the story? Couldn't this be a new way into the lusciously craven atmosphere of death and mystery in the East End of 1888? In the absence of the heroic, filmmakers made male heroes for this tale. In the absence of further evidence of any kind, why not begin manufacturing female heroics to fill in the gaps and extend the possibilities of new thrillers? Luckily, there is some historic evidence of female heroism in the locale.
Some might say "five women died in this historic moment" and one can't change that in the narrative. No, of course not. But dying was not the only activity women engaged in during this time. Women did not simply enter the action to die. And they weren't all prostitutes. There were over 1200 known prostitutes in the Whitechapel neighborhood at this time, but we do know that many women had to prostitute themselves to supplement their poor wages from sweated labor. They were working other jobs. True, there were no female police, nor were there any female judges at the time. However, there were women working as touts, midwives and doctors, coal haulers, dust women, sackwomen who could be identified by their yellowed, oily hands, shop assistants, ditch diggers, milk deliverers, maids, chars, and factory hands. Far from being sheltered, many women worked out in the streets all day and missed nothing. Working in men's clothes some were indistinguishable from the men beside them (Hiley). Women were everywhere at this time, even in the clattering offices of news agencies and printing presses. Even if they didn't take suspects into custody and do the questioning, they were frequently the ones speaking with the police and sometimes they were the ones brought in for brawling and defending family members. Women were also running for positions on the London School Board. Though the entertainment world has chosen to focus on a very gendered version of the action, the action could be much more inclusive . One might say it must be told from a man's point of view because men were in charge. But who actually saw the Ripper? The female victims. Who "saw" the Ripper in strangers in the street and shadows in their bedrooms? Millions of other women. If women were indeed the only people who actually saw the real Ripper and the only people who feared his attacks, couldn't the story be told from a woman's point of view? Isn't this a woman's story? Sometimes the male domination of this story gets to the point of suffocating it. These days it seems to me that this entertainment construction does the Ripper's work again, draining the vitality from the women who could be agents in the tale. The Male Vs. Male construct reappears with such regularity that it seems to be reinforcing the old idea that women had to be guided, governed and covered. Smothered. Put down. If you poison people long enough with a negative idea about themselves, they will eventually believe it. The constant reemergence of this male-male drama feels like a dangerous, carefully administered, sinister corrective, a toxin. The prevalence of this narrative strategy is a toxic repetition.
What do I mean by "toxic repetition"?
Like it or not, we all know that the younger generation, the one that the Hollywood Producers targets, tends to treat movies with a historical theme to be history-actual history. If you teach, you are very aware of this profound domain that film commands. Most young people absorb film "history" without any adult imposing him or herself to intervene or interpret. So Austin Powers really shows what the 70s were about, okay? If we agree with Levi Strauss that symbols speak directly to the unconscious, we have to really look at the films we make about our favorite time periods. Many ordinary viewers were pleased with the outré, edgy 2001 From Hell. They liked the strange villain, the creepy, funky world of prostitutes, and the detective in charge. Some applauded the noir-ish Depp scenes, the flaming absinthe and the bit about chasing the dragon and seeing visions. Somehow, they felt like they were getting a fresh, unmediated vision of Victorian Whitechapel. And yet, once again, the women characters, the prostitutes (for aside from the Queen, they are no other female characters but the prostitutes) enter the picture only to turn into meat on a slab. I hate to say this, but if this is the only movie a person sees about London in the nineteenth century, they are going to assume that women of the era were whores and losers. And if you watch the whole group of Ripper films together, this is the impression you'll get. And you might say oh wait, there are lots of other nineteenth century settings in other movies, but the average American teenager doesn't go out to rent Mrs. Brown or The Way We Live Now. They rent From Hell to see Johnny Depp. If an impressionable female teenager sees her share of ordinary contemporary movies and views From Hell as history, she's going to think consciously or unconsciously that women, well, women have been on the losing end and they are doomed. Multiply this by about 100 other films, and, well, I don't think I have to tell you how dangerous this view of the self can be. I see this recurrence to the standard narrative as toxic. Further, I think we show remarkable lack of imagination about this story and its entertainment possibilities.
I want to share a possible story line for a film. But before I do, I want to explain why I feel so strongly about this. That research course I teach for undergraduates is usually pretty packed. The students have to prove their stuff by reading all of Sugden and taking quizzes on the content of his book and The Lodger. Then they have to go out and develop their own research topic connected with the JTR.
The Proof Positive That Younger Audiences Want to See and Learn More of the Ripper, His Time and His Era's Problems
We have a younger generation who crave more knowledge about the history and this time and seem very interested in the darker side of female compulsions, murderous compulsions, especially… in one survey they reported that they wanted lectures on all crime at the time, all the royal dirt, and all about education efforts in the East End. .
Listen to their comments:
One writer who became nothing less than fixated on her research remarked that "Throughout my research I kept finding more and more interesting things on working women. The more I found the more I became interested in them and their lives. Evidently I did my best to incorporate working women into my Ripper Theory, but it just did (not) work out as I had hoped. I must say I have never found something as interesting as the subject of working women in England…I couldn't get over their size, the jobs they held, and their strength… Also as I read (Sugden) more in depth I kept finding more and more clues that would point to a female killer…" The female students wanted to explore the issues of female autonomy; they wanted to know more about why East End women had to prostitute themselves. Both male and female were very curious about the deep contrasts between East and West London and the connection between that contrast and social cruelty.
One Muslima said this: " I found a lot of evidence supported my claim that JtR was a maniac who wanted to control women's sexuality and keep them suppressed so that they would not compete against men. " I want to add here that the Pacific NW Muslimas are not prone to intensely radical views and furthermore, this one suffered some health setbacks during the quarter and had to miss some class, but she struggled to keep up with the class and finished it with a vengeance. It was as though the subject mattered more to her than staying at home in bed and taking it easy.
Another very young female writer said, "At first this topic appears to just be about the Whitechapel murders. As you get into the subject a little deeper you realize that there are social factors and political factors that must be addressed because they seemed to directly affect the murders." This student was gripped by the inequalities of the neighborhoods and she did an impressive amount of work sorting out the facts for herself. For them, it's more than a thriller from the olden days. It's an unsettling encounter with a past that gets to them; it keeps forcing them to ask questions. Then there was the fellow, only sixteen, who sprang to life once he read Jack London's People of the Abyss. "I still want to learn about the conditions of the East End recently, in the past few years and what is projected for the future of the East End I also want to compare the slums of England to the most notoriously horrible slums of other third world countries. It would be a very interesting study. The numbers were astounding enough, that I couldn't notice anything else." This young fellow blasted through Jack London's People of the Abyss as though it was an irresistible comic book. The facts and figures gathered by London in 1902 about the welfare of the area unsettled this student in my class to action, and he converted his classmates to the idea that social reforms in the East End were too little too late. He was determined to keep on bringing the negative state of social welfare to other peoples' awareness.
Everyone wanted to follow the main characters in this "story"-the women, and find out more about crimes committed, lives gained and lost, and everyone wanted to know more about the central criminal in the drama.
Few wanted to know more about the police and the detectives. They were quite certain the enforcers did what they could.
Now, they showed sophisticated acuteness by dismissing the aspects in the movies in which men squared off and fought each other. One male student criticized the 1965 production of Study in Terror because of Sherlock Holmes' terminator-like ability to fight three guys at once in his pursuit of the Ripper. All of them made fun of the characterization of Fred Abberline in the latest movie. No one enjoyed the fact that he was having visions that helped him solve the crime-I thought this surprising because of their age and enjoyment of magical modes of thinking.
True, these students are in college and have separated themselves from the great mass of movie-watchers by becoming wary critics of popular horror film. But they are still very much American teens with expectations for the magic and might of film entertainment. How could Hollywood produce a new treatment of the old Ripper story that could satisfy the jaded, critical tastes of these consumers, and compete for the hearts and minds of other adolescents?
A Possible Story Line for a New Movie about the Ripper
Bryant Mays Match Factory Girls Vs. The Ripper
Movie treatment April 16 2006
The 1880s were an intensely volatile time in the Victorian era for men and women.
The Matchgirls at the Bryant and Mays Factory successfully struck and won their demands only three weeks before the first canonical Ripper victim was found. The Bryant and Mays girls were well known in Bow for strolling together in the street, laughing loudly and for wearing flashy hats. They were known for their cheek, even before the strike (Raw).
During the strike, the women marched to Parliament and demanded audience with the lawmakers. People jeered them for their rags as they marched into the West End. However, when they met with MPs, the members were "surprised by the girls' intelligence and quick wicks." Bryant and May had to give in to the women's demands because of heavy public pressure. The women won higher wages, a clean and safe dining room away from the production floor, and the right to unionize (Raw).
The matchwomen were known for their strong fellow feeling. They sacrificed to support other girls down on their luck and banded together to help one another. Their fellow feeling and powerful strike inspired the male dockworkers in their neighborhood. A year later their husbands and sons took their example and organized the Great Dock Strike of 1889 (Raw).
Stephen Ryder just today (Wed, April 12, 2006) directed me to a letter written Oct 5 1888 by "The Ripper" threatening the Bryant and Mays girls because they'd been quoted in the press explaining what they'd do to the Ripper if they caught him.
Here is the scenario for a new Ripper film that is based on a female fantasy viewpoint:
It is WW2, and the shells rock the neighborhood. The scene opens in a tube station shelter. An amorous couple, very dirty, stand leaning against a wall. A rocket falls and a large piece of the wall caves in. Coughing and looking around, the couple see a broken coffin with a rough parchment in it. The letter gives the identity of the killers of the body, but not the body itself. The body is long and clothed in men's attire. The face is all but gone, but one can see dark eyelashes and brows. There's a brimmed hat in the coffin. His hands are big, like a giant's. The note inside the coffin says:
(Show note on Bryant and Mays Factory letterhead)
"Becase he was a morderer of wimin of our class, and no gennelmon, he as been don to death by Mary O'Connor, Jane Neal, Harri Denby, and June O'Shea. We took is loif so we might lif in peace. May God in Hivvin save our souls. He dasarved it and nodthin else.
(and in different hand)
Let us do evil that good may come. Romanss 3:7
The couple parts and the grubby girl scuttles back to her makeshift bed. (shots of people defecating in corners. As a rat creeps across some sleeper's rear end, we hear the sound of bombers rumbling overhead)
She awakes another girl to con over the letter with her. All they can get out of it is that other women were stuck like they are-something big and bad about that dead man drove them to desperate measures, like hiding in a hole with raw sewage in it. In the night, more bombs hit, and the bombsite with the coffin is blown to smithereens and the poor girls suffocate. And the note is lost in the fire.
(Fade to black)
The story then opens in the thick of the grimy July 1888 Whitechapel. See headlines about the strike and see girls on their way down the street to Parliament.
Shot establishes the principle characters of the action-and follows them along the street as wealthy West enders hoot. They are wearing their work smocks and ragged head coverings. It is July and very hot yet they push on and meet the MPs, who are shocked and surprised by the way the women express their desires and demand justice. June O'Shea speaks the most. She will be the main character with habits and style similar to one of the actual historic women (once any of this can be established by Louise's papers).
Next, the victorious headlines are seen and we hear our first news hawkers bellowing in the streets "Strike Victory for Matchgirls!" Views of the girls back on the job, giving their seers a taste of attitude. Smiles.
(Advance to September 1888)
Market full of frowzy harvest produce, jostling vendors. A good deal of the day to day chaos in September is presented: Ann Chapman's body has just been discovered and everyone is making connections between Emma Smith's stabbing, Martha Tabram's stabbing, Polly Nichol's death and this new murder. Everytime a suspect is "identified" he is chased through the streets like old Squibby was. The roaring, angry crowd was in the street, chasing-nothing. Nowhere was there peace.
Quick flashes of tense crowds, police interactions, brawls.
The filmwatchers would largely enjoy the suggestion of brashness, brassiness, physical strength, streetsmarts and sexuality of the matchgirls. There characters would stand in strong contrast with other less hopeful women around them, and of course, in deeper contrast with the armies of prostitutes in Whitechapel. Though some are dastardly, craven, bad girls, still there is something noble in their behavior, and they desire to rid the neighborhood of this dangerous man.
Word of the murder passes quickly, the factory girls send out for the police-police thought it was nothing and that the girls shouldn't muddle themselves. " But all the girls was speaking of it. It wasn't nothing to us." one speaker would say.
And another would say "And then just as we had stopped being frightened, there was another murder. Then two more." "The knife no one can catch." There was panic along Wentworth and Fashion Street and other places where the poor lived. all of them knew too well that the girls who prostituted themselves weren't fighters or troublemakers. They were the same as the matchgirls-and the matchgirls knew that the next victim was just as likely to be a matchgirl as anyone else.
The girls straightaway grow very fearful and seek weapons. We see some asking questions on the street and sharing secret suspicions. We learn that all are packing horrific weapons in their vests and aprons. One of the more brash matchgirls reads the famous letter to the Central News agency and proclaims, "I wanted to cut one off, just for jolly, myself!" She mimics a vigorous and grotesque castration. It is established that they are great and crafty fighters because of the life on the streets.
(New scene, few days later)
(Loud hew and cry and men seen running)
June O'Shea is walking down Goulston street and is abruptly shoved into a cart, hitting her head. She falls and another woman catches her just in time. A menacing all male crowd is running after the man who hit June. The mob of men is drunken, screaming and careless. June is pulled under a stall by a simpleton who is helping sell vegetables. A young female prawn seller crawls in after them and looks at June's bleeding head. Goods are flying off stalls and tumbling into the streets. The touts are screaming in protest. Many feet pass as the girls watch. The prawn seller covers her tossled basket of prawns and says she thought they'd found a man who was looking quite guilty. The news hawker is heard hollering:. "KILLER AT LARGE-NO one is SAFE!"
"Oh, aye--none of us is safe." Says the prawn seller.
The simpleton starts to moan.
""Och, stop. No one wants our sorry arses… Least of all yours or mine" she said. The simpleton rams her fist to her eye and stops crying.
"I don't think they wull cotch him, and I don't know what to do," says the prawn seller.
The matchgirl, our strange heroine, looks down at the dust, which included a slimed fish head and some dog dung.
Nothing comes to her. She tries to reason out what they should do next. We won once. Can we hunt him and take him ourselves, she thinks, rather impetuously.
"Weren't you one of the girls that went to Parliament?" The prawn seller asks. (Shot of two constables, one bloodied from a struggle, the other pulling his hat off in disgust.)
"Why don't you girls do something about this?"
June looks out and sees a drunken cabman slipping on a rotten cabbage leaf.
"I don't think the men can stop him," asserts the prawn seller.
June's forehead does not stop bleeding and the camera focuses on her own dirty hands catching the blood drops.
June O'Shea is at the Working Men's Club listening to a young man debate the merits of situational ethics, and he is talking about lying in order to accomplish some noble end.
June is getting it. We watch her dark eyes widen as she takes it in.
She walks home with a group of female friends who are full of the debate. One girl says "Yes, yes, but the Lord said "Man shall not live by Bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out fo the mouth of God." June, we must follow His words, Father Callaghan's words, and we will go right.
June looks at the girl and angrily says, "yes, but whose words are they?
God's words, Father Callaghan's words or the words of that other great spirit that works within all of us?"
She stares at the girl who has quoted the Bible. As they walk the nervous girls about them are saying "We must find him and kill him. We must find him and kill him. We must find him and kill him."
June hears the " words of God."
AS she convinces the others of the right course to take, there is a catfight, with some hair pulled out for good measure, and some heaving bosoms to make all the thirteen year olds happy. But the course is decided.
Here, the ingenious scriptwriter would develop a number of detection escapades. Through a series of intriguing and bizarre observations, the factory girls narrow down the suspects. Girls would prosecute their suspicions in several rowdy public houses about Whitechapel, in alley ways full of evil, at bitterly rundown houses in Wentworth Street, and in the darkest pits down by the river. The murderous intentions of the matchgirls would be balanced by demonstrations of the horror of the moment. Hard, driving rock and roll music will drill into our ears as we watch angry, rapacious counter villains tracking the doomed Ripper.
There would also be a love story developing between June and some fine strapping Irish dockworker. She will have met him at a socialist's debate and will have been lured by his crafty ability to jig.
The girls will proceed on the premise that the killer is a no one. The character of the killer will be based on the horrible Richard Trenton Chase, or "Vampire Killer" who went on a murderous rampage in 1978 north of Sacramento, CA. He was a opportunity killer who actually drank the blood of his victims (Ressler 1-22). He was just a disorganized asocial offender who seemed really harmless. Only kills in his own neighborhood because that's about all he can handle (Holmes). Only the girls notice him because they are used to looking at low level, tiny details, and one of them notices that this guy never talks to anyone in this really chatty neighborhood.
In an exciting climax totally unlike the standard endings, the woman capture and dispatch the Ripper. The very clever script writer would have to figure out how to make the climax completely different from the cornering of Laird Cregar in the Lodger 1944 or the netting of the Ripper in Murder by Decree. The Ripper is captured, revealed as the nobody he was (someone sort of like David Cohen or Aaron Kosminsky) and dispatched in an unbloody manner. June repeats something about expedient lies and actions, and her Bible quoting friend scribbles in the extra message at the end as a sort of apology.
The cleverness of the girls is left to the imagination. What we do find out is that Somehow they managed to bury the body in a place in the ground somewhere in the city area that won't be disturbed. The spot eventually takes many direct hits during the Blitzkreig. Maybe at the end, we see firemen clambering over a heap of rubble with hoses, bypassing the fragments of the Ripper's coffin, which is blazing like a soul in hell in the center of a Blitz hell.
The younger set might like it because of the grrrl mentality of the brazen bombshells of the Bryant and Mays Factory. The younger set would like to see alternative views of the past, and the success of From Hell points to the appeal of this strange corner of London. the younger set might also dig it because of the frank sexuality of the characters and the pride they show in their style. The story also targets a monster, which of course is the point of the successful horror films of the last fifty or so years, but perhaps this one will have edgy appeal if he is portrayed as a real antidote to the "brilliant antihero" image he is sometimes given. It would reverse the toxic repetition of the characteristic story method that renders women as simply dead bodies. And it would also give everyone that wonderful time-travelling frisson when they see the Ripper "killed" again by Hitler's bombs.
In conclusion, you have heard about an English professor's "take" on cultural treatments of Jack the Ripper, you've heard how I've used him in an undergraduate research class, and you've heard an idea about how to exploit the female point of view to tell the story again.
Jack the Ripper will live on and go on intriguing audiences for a long time. Let's renew the treatment, deepen our views, and buff up our entertainment. Because we all want to travel back in time…
I now invite questions!!
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Caputi, Jane. The Age of Sex Crime. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular P, 1987.
Coville, Gary and Patrick Lucanio. Jack the Ripper: His Life and Crimes in Popular Entertainment. Jefferson and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1999.
Hiley, Michael. Victorian Working Women: Portraits from Life. Boston: David R. Godine, 1979.
Holmes, Ronald M. and Stephen T. Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool. Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, London, and New Delhi: Sage, 1996.
Hughes, Molly. A London Family, 1870-1900. (1934-7) Reprinted Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.
Purvis, June, Ed. Women's History: Britain, 1850-1945. UCL P, 1995.
Raw, Louise. "Leading Lights of the Early Labour Movement; A Little Remembered Strike, Inspired in Part by the Determination of 19th Century Irish Women in London's East End, Deserves a Place in Labor History." Irish Times Dublin (City Edition) July 27, 2002, p. 10.
Ressler, Robert K. and Tom Schachtman. Whoever Fights Monsters. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Ryder, Stephen. Private email. April 16, 2006.
Tithecott, Richard. Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of a Serial Killer. Madison: U Wisconsin P, 1997.
VanArsdel, Rosemary T. Florence Fenwick Miller: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, and Educator. Aldershot, Burlington USA, Singapore and Sydney: Ashgate, 2001.
|Karen Kurt Teal|
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