In the wake of the Ripper’s crimes in 1888, one of the rumours that spread over London had it that the sites of the murders, like dots joined on the map of the city, would form a distinctive pattern, a recognizable clue giving important indications about the identity of the murderer and/or his hidden motives. Nobody, of course, knew which was exactly that pattern and why was it so distinctive. As it often the case in unsolved murder cases, the idea of an obscure but recognizable design that marks the map of the crime site(s) is both a way of dealing with the unacceptability of something without reason or meaning and a way of reading a place with new eyes, creating new connections and overlaying an ideal or imaginary city above the real one. Looking for the murderer in places like Whitechapel or Limehouse was quite different than hinting that he was hidden in Buckingham Palace or in the elegant squares of the East End. The canonical question “who was Jack the Ripper?” should therefore be reformulated in a more significant manner as “where was Jack the Ripper?” because imagining his whereabouts could give important clues about the way we try to deal with the complexity of the city, tracing in this particular instance an imaginary London or a London of the imagination. With reference to true and/or literary crimes and the city of London, the Italian scholar Franco Moretti has shown how the London areas where Sherlock Holmes pops up don’t coincide with the real sites of the crimes: the great sleuth doesn’t linger about such areas where real crimes were perpetrated because in doing so his detections would be deprived of any charme since the real crimes were caused by unartistically motives like misery and abuses. And the risk of a casual meeting between Sherlock Holmes and the unidentified Jack the Ripper was too great and too dangerous for the reputation of the detective. Other authors, like Ellery Queen or Michael Dibdin, will later explore this possibility in their Holmesian pastiches. Conan Doyle’s stories are supposed to pass to crime literature a double legacy: an English way to crime detection, based on reason and analyse, versus the American hard-boiled novel in which the urban setting has a relevant role. And a stereotypical aspect of London, with its fog, its gaslight, its crooked streets and a clear division between the mysterious and impenetrable East End and London at large. Both assumptions are questionable: XX century British authors like Gerald Kersh or, more recently, Derek Raymond and Jake Arnott, give us interesting variations on the darker aspects of Doyle’s stories, mixing them with the XVII century tradition of London lowlife and with insights in the deepest recesses of human condition. In their works, London has changed too and the darkness of the poorest urban areas, once confined within the borders of the East End, is slowly eating the whole town up.

“ ‘Where was Jack the Ripper?’ Urban Space in the British [True (Crime] Novel)”

SCATASTA, GINO
2005

Abstract

In the wake of the Ripper’s crimes in 1888, one of the rumours that spread over London had it that the sites of the murders, like dots joined on the map of the city, would form a distinctive pattern, a recognizable clue giving important indications about the identity of the murderer and/or his hidden motives. Nobody, of course, knew which was exactly that pattern and why was it so distinctive. As it often the case in unsolved murder cases, the idea of an obscure but recognizable design that marks the map of the crime site(s) is both a way of dealing with the unacceptability of something without reason or meaning and a way of reading a place with new eyes, creating new connections and overlaying an ideal or imaginary city above the real one. Looking for the murderer in places like Whitechapel or Limehouse was quite different than hinting that he was hidden in Buckingham Palace or in the elegant squares of the East End. The canonical question “who was Jack the Ripper?” should therefore be reformulated in a more significant manner as “where was Jack the Ripper?” because imagining his whereabouts could give important clues about the way we try to deal with the complexity of the city, tracing in this particular instance an imaginary London or a London of the imagination. With reference to true and/or literary crimes and the city of London, the Italian scholar Franco Moretti has shown how the London areas where Sherlock Holmes pops up don’t coincide with the real sites of the crimes: the great sleuth doesn’t linger about such areas where real crimes were perpetrated because in doing so his detections would be deprived of any charme since the real crimes were caused by unartistically motives like misery and abuses. And the risk of a casual meeting between Sherlock Holmes and the unidentified Jack the Ripper was too great and too dangerous for the reputation of the detective. Other authors, like Ellery Queen or Michael Dibdin, will later explore this possibility in their Holmesian pastiches. Conan Doyle’s stories are supposed to pass to crime literature a double legacy: an English way to crime detection, based on reason and analyse, versus the American hard-boiled novel in which the urban setting has a relevant role. And a stereotypical aspect of London, with its fog, its gaslight, its crooked streets and a clear division between the mysterious and impenetrable East End and London at large. Both assumptions are questionable: XX century British authors like Gerald Kersh or, more recently, Derek Raymond and Jake Arnott, give us interesting variations on the darker aspects of Doyle’s stories, mixing them with the XVII century tradition of London lowlife and with insights in the deepest recesses of human condition. In their works, London has changed too and the darkness of the poorest urban areas, once confined within the borders of the East End, is slowly eating the whole town up.
[City in (Culture] in City), Proceedings of the Ninth Cultural Studies Symposium
137
148
G. Scatasta
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/10752
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