Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jack the Ripper in Popular Culture

Jack the Ripper is the most legendary terror of late-Victorian London. I've written about him before, and it's the legacy that the ripper case left upon the imagination that fascinates me the most.

If the Ripper Case didn't actually invent crime journalism and detective fiction, it certainly changed the shape of them. Jack the Ripper was the first serial killer to attract worldwide media attention, which was, in part, due total reforms that enabled the wider circulation of inexpensive magazines and newspapers, including the Illustrated Police News.

The Illustrated Police News, 15 September 1888.
"Whatever information may be in the possession of the police they deem it necessary to keep secret ... It is believed their attention is particularly directed to ... a notorious character known as 'Leather Apron'." - Manchester Guardian, 6 September 1888.
'Leather Apron,' 'Jack the Ripper'... adopting a nickname for a murder suspect became standard media practice with these words, and would soon be followed by 'the Axeman' of New Orleans, 'the Boston Strangler,' 'the Düsseldorf Ripper,' and many others.

Public frustration with the inability of the police to solve the case opened the public's hearts to freelance detectives, like Sherlock Holmes and Sexton Blake. The public obsession with this horrifying unsolvable mystery directly captured the imagination of writers as well.

Fiction that was directly inspired by the case began to appear as soon as October 1888. John Francis Brewer wrote a short gothic novel that featured the murder of Catherine Eddowes, The Curse Upon Mitre Square (1888). These stories immediately had an international appeal because the whole world was watching London for clues at the time.

The Spanish-language 'Jack El Destripador' was published soon after the murders, and sent a comedic version of Sherlock Holmes after a similar killer.

Indirectly, Jack the Ripper influenced the popularity of other works, like Dracula, which definitely gained popularity through the public's obsession. But in terms of those that dealt most directly with Jack the Ripper, Marie Belloc Lowndes' 'The Lodger' (1913) was the most influential work. In this novel, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting suspect their lodger is a wanted serial killer, called "the Avenger." Alfred Hitchcock adapted the story to film, and the theme became as popular as Holmes versus the Ripper.

Today there are hundreds of books that try to solve the mystery, and works of fiction that still feed a public interest in the story. Lowndes' novel has been made into five films.

The movie Time After Time (1979) lets Jack the Ripper escape from 1890s London to 1970s San Fransisco, followed in hot pursuit by H.G. Wells.

And Jack the Ripper made it into comic books.

And of course, Ripper Street, the TV series.

In 2011, Madame Vastra from Doctor Who claimed to have eaten Jack the Ripper. As you can see (in the picture below), the construction of Madame Vastra's character is partially built on a framework, pre-established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Throughout October 2014, I will be sharing the halloween-themed stories of 1890s London. Check back often!

Follow me on Twitter @TinyApplePress and like the Facebook page for updates!

If you have enjoyed the work that I do, please consider supporting my Victorian Dictionary Project!

No comments:

Post a Comment