Monday, June 13, 2005
I Know Me Some Jack
I talked with a former professor of mine over the weekend and he put me in touch with a colleague of his who is also a Jack the Ripper/Terry Pratchett buff. What are the odds of someone liking both of those? She got her doctorate here as well, so I'm going to look at her dissertation in the library. Not on Jack, alas, but should be interesting. Plus, it leaves it open for me!

I don't consider myself an "expert" on Jack, but I can say that I read my first book concerning him, called Great Unsolved Mysteries from the Scholastic Press when I was ten. That's over 2 decades ago. I have to still refer to books to remember witnesses and names, etc. so I don't think I'll ever be encyclopedic. But for most people I know, if there was a question about him, they would ask me. So while I would not call myself all-knowing, I do know some basics and I can read books now and know when those authors screw up places, names, etc. There are things that are true and things that are not as it pertains to Jack, and popular opinion has skewed them in some ways. For instance, Jack is generally thought of as this cloaked figure carrying a medical bag through foggy London. But on none of the nights when he struck was it foggy. And while some witnesses said he was carrying a "parcel," none said "Gladstone bag."

So I'm "googling" Jack, as I do, and I come across this homework help site. You know, one of those that offers people the opportunity to post requests for help on school assignments. Well, one had written in to request help on Jack in Victorian social consciousness, and I read the posts. Some had just referred the student to books (like Cornwell's, yuck). But one toward the end said something like "Jack was an aristocrat who must have had money to own a carriage. He fed the women grapes and these were found in their stomach contents." On and on like this. Now, we don't KNOW if Jack was rich or whatever, but the grapes thing is strictly bullshit. This is what happened in the movie From Hell, not in real life. What was even worse was that the writer said he/she was a criminal justice major and took a whole class on Jack. So what did it encompass? Stomach contents were part of the autopsies, and NOT ONE of the victims was said to have grapes in her system. Normally, I only "lurk" at JTR sites and read; as I said, I'm not about to hold myself out as an expert. In fact, I describe myself as a "Ripperologist," and the definition of that is not an expert, but one who has an ongoing interest in the case. So I didn't want to call this person out. There's a preposition at the end of a sentence for you, Rachel. But I thought about it, and the site IS for students to get help on papers. What if the student just took this at face value, put it in the paper, and got reamed for it? Or worse yet, the teacher knew nothing about it and accepted it? This would perpetuate the misinformation and would show up in supposedly scholarly treatments, causing people to have to refute it before moving on to the substance of the argument. Overall, just an unnecessary waste of time.

So I posted a reply, saying that the grapes, etc. were "Hollywood make-believe." The person wrote back and said, "No one can PROVE anything about Jack. No one knows what happened. If you read some books of the criminalists of the period, you would find the contents of the stomach discussed." Or words to that effect. So, I couldn't just let this lie. It's true, no one can prove a negative. I can't prove that Jack wasn't the Loch Ness Monster. But I can prove, by those books that the person implied I hadn't read, that the victims did NOT have grapes in their stomachs. And I could prove that contrary to another point of the poster that the victims were NOT said to have been killed somewhere else by the doctors who examined them. This is not to say that they weren't, but all we can go by is what they did then; and then, they said the victims weren't moved. We'll see if that's the end, but I doubt it. I put a number of books for the student to read as well, so he/she doesn't just get the info second-hand. But that second-hand source should at least be "basically" correct. And while I would probably lose and lose badly to any number of people who are devoted Ripperologists in trivia contests, I am secure in knowing the basics.

There are a number of things I do not know. I don't know what makes women tick. I don't know why the sky is blue. I don't know anything about nuclear power. I don't know how Keanu Reeves keeps getting movie roles. I don't know why hot dogs come in packages of ten while buns come in packages of eight. I don't know, because I forgot, what "ekphrasis" means. Hold on....Ekphrasis is "the Greek word for description," used to describe how words can translate the meaning of a work of art, or vice versa. OK, some of these can be rectified. I don't know how Celine Dion can sell billions of records but someone like Janis Ian is still obscure and must sell CDs on her website. I don't know why Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County are no more, but Garfield is still around. I don't know why an implied inhaling of marijuana on the part of Clinton is abominable, but an implied use of cocaine and a real DUI on the part of George W. is fine. I don't know why Hillary stayed, either, except out of political expediency. I don't know why I would probably like both men if I knew them personally, but I think I would. I don't know why kids who did poorly in high school are shocked to discover how hard college is. I don't know how I can be intelligent and arrogant but still stutter occasionally and forget words. I don't know why I'm incapable of eating or drinking anything without spilling on myself and can't go a day without running into or over something while walking. And so on.

But I do know Jack.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 10:09 AM | 7 comments

At 12:30 PM, Blogger ET said...

Ah...the Wrath of Grapes!

I can attest to the fact that LT HAS and READS everything that he can find on JTR. There are no less than three full walls of our house lined with bookcases, and not a week goes by but another "overseas" package arrives with some obscure available-only-from-Europe book because he already has every book on JTR available in the United States.

I don't know how Heather Graham keeps getting movie roles either, but she and Keanu make a fine pair. Between them they might have the I.Q. of a Californian. Blech. And FROM HELL looked like it sucked to me.

But I am a BIG Pratchett fan.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

I can't answer any of your question, but I CAN show you a 6-pound Ye Olde 96er hamburger somewhat related to your " I don't know why hot dogs come in packages of ten while buns come in packages of eight" statement. Will that make things more better-er?

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Ghone said...

Cool blog.
Ghone, UK.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger LT said...

Thanks, Ghone. Welcome anytime.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger LT said...

I also wanted to add, regarding the Gladstone Bag, that a daughter of a witness told Martin Fido that her mother said the suspect had a Gladstone bag. But this witness, Mary Cox (cf. Mary Kelly) never told this to the police. So most believe that this was an embellishment on the part of the daughter.

At 2:29 AM, Blogger Bloghead said...

I watch the show From Hell the other day. First time actually watch it. Basically, I know some part were exagerated but I almost believe about the grapes. Next time, I'll watch Discovery or National Geographic.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Stacie said...

I like Pratchett (have written a few essays on his work)and have an interest in Jack, myself! I'm a 19th century BritLit specialist at Kent State University. I was up in the rare book room the other day and they have a *huge* display of Ripper stuff.


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