|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 55, September 2004. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
Alan Sharp is a theatre director and freelance writer and researcher from Dublin, Ireland. He is working on a book, London Correspondence: Jack the Ripper and the Irish Press.
In the early 1980s the British government passed a bill banning the sale or rental of over 100 movies on video that were deemed unsuitable for public viewing. These so-called “video nasties”, many of them cheap exploitative films made in the 1970s, were blamed for the increase in societal violence, but in truth they were an easy target. It was a case of the new Conservative government, with its emphasis on traditional values, needing to be seen to do something in the face of a rising tide of criticism over the increase of sex and violence on TV and in films.
Popular entertainment has long been a scapegoat for society’s ills. In the 1970s, Stanley Kubrick withdrew his film A Clockwork Orange from circulation after a copycat rape in which “Singing in the Rain” was whistled by the attacker. After the murder of little Jamie Bulger so horrified the nation, the film Child’s Play 3, which had been viewed by the ten-year-old killers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, was touted as the root cause of the atrocity. The blame for the Columbine massacre was laid at the feet of the music of Marilyn Manson. And arguments continue to rage, and will probably rage forever, on the legitimacy of the allegation that violence in popular culture leads to violence in the real world.
In truth, these accusations generally lie in our human need to comprehend the incomprehensible. Our own inner sense of security is dependent on our finding a reason why evil occurs, we are unable to accept the concept of simple evil for its own sake. If a person commits an atrocity for what appears to be no reason, then we ourselves may become blameless victims. We need something tangible to point at, to say to ourselves “this is why this happened.” The entertainment industry, or that section of it which emphasises the darker, more violent aspects of life, make for an easy scapegoat.
It was ever thus, and in 1888 when the Jack the Ripper murders gripped the East End of London in it’s web of fear, a theatrical production at the Lyceum Theatre found itself the focus of a great deal of unwanted attention. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, an adaptation of the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and featuring the celebrated actor Richard Mansfield in the title role was quickly identified as a potential inspiration behind the string of murders.
Most are familiar with Stevenson’s story. Henry Jekyll, an otherwise respectable scientist, recognises the duality of the nature of man and develops a potion which allows him to release a physical manifestation of the evil side of his nature. But as he explores this evil side it grips him in an addiction as strong as that of alcoholism and he spends more and more time in the form of the creature he names Edward Hyde.
When Hyde, in the grip of a rage, bludgeons to death an MP, Sir Danvers Carew, he becomes the subject of a police manhunt and Jekyll vows to bury his alter-ego forever. However Hyde has now become the stronger side of his personality and one he can no longer control. As Gabriel Utterson, his lawyer and the narrator of the story, alerted by his servants prepares to break down the door of Jekyll’s laboratory where he is trapped in the body of Hyde, he takes his own life and ends his self-inflicted misery.
On the face of it is not easy from a modern point of view to see the parallels between this story and that of a homicidal maniac slicing open women in the East End. And in this way we have to accept that we have become somewhat desensitised to the images of violence and death which assail us each day from our TV screens. To the average denizen of Whitechapel the story would likely have had little effect either, accustomed as they were to the everyday violence and degradation which were a part of life on those streets. But to the more well off middle and upper classes of society, such horrors were not a part of their daily lives, and they were equally unaccustomed to seeing it on the London stage in an era when the “well-made play” with it’s emphasis on moral redemption held prominence.
Robert Louis Stevenson was born on 13 November 1850, the only son of a respectable middle-class civil engineer in Edinburgh, Scotland. A sickly child, he would be plagued with bad health throughout his life, and he took refuge in the books read aloud to him by his nurse Allison Cunningham. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, he entered Edinburgh University in 1867 to study science, but found that his heart was not in it and later told his father that he wished to pursue a career as a writer.
By the early 1870s he had established himself as a journalist of some talent, with pieces appearing in many of the leading journals of the day, and began experimenting with short stories. In 1880 he married Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne, an American divorcee ten years his senior, and the couple spent much of the next decade dividing their time between England and the South of France. He had published his first book, a travelogue titled An Inland Voyage, in 1878, to moderate success, but it was with the publication of his first novel, Treasure Island, in 1883 which transformed him into a household name.
In 1885, while convalescing from another illness in Bournemouth he was awoken from a nightmare by his scared wife, and immediately admonished her for interrupting a “fine bogey-tale”. This dream would become the foundation on which he hastily assembled the story of Jekyll and Hyde. “I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man’s double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature,” he later wrote.
A thirty thousand word first draft of the novel was completed in a sustained three day burst of writing, and within six weeks of first putting pen to paper Stevenson had completed his final draft and had the story ready for publication. It was quickly hailed as one of his finest works on its appearance in January 1886, the Times saying of it that “nothing Mr Stevenson has written as yet has so strongly impressed us with the versatility of his very original genius.” Their review continued by saying that “either the story was a flash of intuitive psychological research, dashed off in a burst of inspiration, or else it is the product of the most elaborate forethought, fitting together all the parts of an intricate and inscrutable puzzle.”
Stevenson took as one inspiration for the story the double standard he saw in the life of the professional classes around him. This was a part of the world he moved in, where men led an outwardly respectable life where appearance was everything. Such men could live as debauched a life as they chose, but so long as they maintained the semblance of respectability they would still prosper within this society. It was a theme which would be tackled many times in literature, most notably in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
However, there was also a real life case which provided a great deal of inspiration. It was a case which Stephenson knew well having co-written a play based on the story with W E Henley in 1880.
William Brodie was a highly respectable gentleman about town in Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century. A respected cabinetmaker and Deacon of the Guild of Wrights and Masons - a position his father had held before him - and a Town Councillor, Brodie mixed with the highest of Edinburgh society. He counted Robert Burns as a neighbour in the street which bore his family name, Brodie Close, and was a close friend of the painter Sir Henry Raeburn.
But when the town went to bed another side of William Brodie came out. An inveterate gambler, drinker and womaniser, Brodie would spend his nights in low-life clubs and cock-fights indulging his baser nature and running up huge personal debts. To this latter problem he had the perfect solution. His very profession provided it to him, as he was privy to all the secret locks, counters, drawers and strong-boxes of the business community of the town, and so respectable was he that nobody would ever be likely to suspect him of taking advantage of this situation.
Brodie teamed up with an English locksmith and low-life villain named George Smith and the two formed a perfect team for relieving the well-to-do of Edinburgh of their riches, Brodie providing the intelligence, Smith the expertise. A spate of thefts began to shock the good folk of the city, and Brodie gained almost as much enjoyment from involving himself in the prevention measures as he did from the crimes themselves, sometimes carrying out burglaries which seem to have had no possible motive other than the sheer fun of it, such as when he and Smith stole the silver mace from the Edinburgh university. Brodie and Smith took on two accomplices, Andrew Ainslie and John Brown, the latter a wanted man in England with a sentence of death hanging over his head. On Wednesday 5 March 1788 the gang carried out a burglary of His Majesty’s Excise office which was badly bungled.
Knowing they had two hours to carry out the job between when the door-keeper went home at eight and the night watchman came on duty at ten, they arrived and Ainslie took up a watch outside while John Brown followed the door-keeper to his home. Brodie and Smith entered the building using a duplicate key Brodie had made. Brodie took up a position just inside the door while Smith went about the burglary. The job netted a measly £15 16s, and things went horribly wrong when a secretary of the Excise office came back to the office for some papers he had left behind.
Startled by the sudden arrival, Ainslie failed to give a signal, and Brodie was surprised by the stranger and fled before he could be recognised. Smith and Brown, who by now had also returned and entered the building, were also taken by surprise on hearing the secretary on the stairs and fled themselves, later meeting up with Ainslie and Brodie to divide the spoils.
The next day John Brown, realising how close they had come to capture, which for him meant death, and seeing a £200 reward for information leading to the discovery of the criminals, went to the Sheriff and turned states evidence against Smith and Ainslie, keeping Brodie’s name back in the hope of blackmailing him. In doing so, he also ensured his own safety, as before he would be allowed to testify in a Scottish court of law he would first have to be pardoned for his crimes in England.
Brodie, realising all was lost, fled Edinburgh for London, but by the time he arrived his name had been divulged by his co-conspirators, and he was a wanted man, and so he continued on to Amsterdam from where he hoped to escape across the Atlantic. Unfortunately for him he was traced there through some letters he had given to another man to deliver for him and was extradited back to Scotland.
On 27 August, in a marathon trial which ran unbroken from nine in the morning until six the following morning, Brodie was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to be hanged. The sentence was carried out on 1 October, bizarrely on a gallows the mechanism of which Brodie had himself designed.
It was in the duplicity of Brodie’s life that Stevenson found his model for the outwardly respectable and respected Dr Jekyll and the despicable figure he became after his chemical transformations. Brodie commanded the same love and respect from his fellows that Dr Jekyll enjoys from his friend Utterson, so much so that there are tales of plots to rescue him from the gallows and a possible attempt by a specially hired French doctor to revive him after his body had been released from the rope.
Stevenson published the third of what would be considered his three classic novels, Kidnapped, that same year, but due to his deteriorating health early in 1888 he left England and travelled to the South Seas where he bought an estate on Apia Samoa and settled down to spend what remained of his life there. He died six years later on 3 December 1894 from a cerebral haemorrhage at the young age of 44.
Although usually seen as a parable of good and evil, in fact The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be seen as a very conservative morality tale. The dual sides of the doctor’s personality do not in fact represent absolute good and absolute evil, as is made abundantly clear in the text. Rather Jekyll represents the repression that society places over our baser instincts, and Hyde the liberation from such repression. Jekyll is a flawed character who in part enjoys this liberation, and it is this which eventually allows Hyde to take control of the personality and to make his appearances at will without the aid of the chemical formula. This idea of a character who can break with the formal taboos of society to commit anti-social acts of violence and murder at will has obvious parallels with the events of the autumn of 1888.
Early in 1887 the actor and theatre manager Richard Mansfield commissioned Thomas Russell Sullivan to create a stage version of the novel specially for him. Mansfield was either one of the greatest actors of his generation or a mechanical hack, depending on which reports you read of him. Either way, he enjoyed enormous success on two continents in a career which spanned much of the late Victorian period.
Mansfield was born on 24 May 1857 in Helgoland, Germany, the son of operatic soprano Erminia Rudersdorff and her second husband, English wine merchant Maurice Mansfield. Music ran in the family, his grandfather having been violin virtuoso Joseph Rudersdorff, and it was through music that young Richard himself first made a success on the London stage. His first appearance was in a bit part in the Offenbach opera La Boulangére, which he took full advantage of, using comic pratfalls to bring himself to the attention of the audience.
He was quickly engaged by the D’Oyly Carte company, and in April 1879 took the role of Sir George Porter in the touring company of HMS Pinafore, and over the next few years worked his way up to the “A” company where he distinguished himself creating the role of the Major-General in the first production of Pirates of Penzance. In 1882 he headed across the Atlantic to try his luck in America, where he appeared in a number of mostly light-operatic roles in New York and Philadelphia before deciding to move into straight drama, persuading A M Palmer to cast him as Baron Chevrial in A Parisian Romance at the Union Square theatre. It was the role which would rocket him to stardom.
Mansfield was always one to take charge of his own career, and now set himself up as a theatre manager in his own right, producing his own version of A Parisian Romance as well as Prince Karl, a play written especially for him by A C Gunter. This led to his being in the position to commission Jekyll and Hyde as a means of showing off his versatility in the dual role.
The play debuted at the Boston Museum on 9 May 1887 to an audience consisting mainly of local dignitaries caused a sensation as, with the aid of a gauze screen and lighting effects, Mansfield writhed and contorted his way through the trans-formation from Jekyll to Hyde on stage in front of their very eyes. The play took some liberties with the original story. In this version Jekyll becomes a young medical student who is engaged to Agnes Carew, the daughter of Sir Danvers, the man Hyde kills, to add a tragic romance element to the story.
The production was successful enough to earn itself a transfer to the Broadway stage, enjoying its New York premiere on 12 September at the Madison Square Theatre. It is fair to say that it was a crowd-pleasing show and the high praise he received from the public was not always so vociferous from the critics, but nonetheless the play was well received and ran constantly until well into the following year. However, on 13 March 1888, Mansfield suddenly found himself faced with competition as a rival production, both written by and starring Daniel Bandmann, opened at Niblo’s Garden Theatre. Veteran German actor Bandmann, by all accounts, had been inspired to create his own version after being snubbed by Mansfield in a request for comple-mentary tickets to his show.
The real battle of the productions would be fought out in London. Mansfield had arr-anged to transfer to London’s Lyceum opening on 3 September, but when Bandmann announced he was moving his production there, Mansfield suddenly closed his own production in early July and shipped out to Europe to “head him off at the pass,” so to speak. On his arrival he arranged with Henry Irving to bring the production to the Lyceum a month earlier, and learning that the Bandmann production was due to open at the Opera Comique on 6 August, he hired that theatre up until the 5th in order to prevent an early opening. In an interview published in the Times, John Lavine, the manager for the Bandmann production complained of the treatment his company was receiving at Mansfield’s hands.
Allow me to state facts in connexion with Mr Bandmann and his London company and rehearsals on the stage of the Opera Comique. In a reported interview in an evening journal of July 27 I glean the following: ‘Here Mr Mansfield’s eye twinkles merrily. “Well, Sir, until my first night at the Lyceum the Opera Comique has been taken by me, and before Mr Bandmann will enter that house, even for a rehearsal, he will have to ask my leave.” “Which of course he will get?” Again a merry twinkle.’ To the above I would add that the stage-door keeper has informed our company that he has positive orders from Mr Irving’s representative not to allow members of the company to enter the theatre, and that even our announcements on the theatre boards have been covered over with blank paper by his orders.
Meanwhile Irving and Mansfield had persuaded Messrs Longman and Co, the copyright owners on the story, to grant them the exclusive rights for theatrical production and they had already taken to court the proprietors of a Croydon theatre which had advertised a prod-uction of the story to be produced on 26 July and taken an injunction to prevent the play from going ahead.
Mansfield opened on the evening of Saturday 4 August at the Lyceum to generally favourable re-views. The Times said of Mansfield’s performance:
First Dr Jekyll appears; next Mr Hyde; then, after the metamorphosis has occurred a few times behind the scenes, Mr Hyde changes into Dr Jekyll under the eye of the house, but with “lights down,” when he mixes and drinks his mysterious powders in Dr Lanyon’s study; finally Dr Jekyll involuntarily falls back into the repulsive shape of Mr Hyde, as he is looking out of a balcony at the back of the stage, and, having now exhausted his supply of “salt,” takes poison and dies. Instead of trying to preserve or to suggest the identity of the two men in their different shapes, Mr Mansfield, wisely, no doubt, in view of the importance of broad effects, presents them as separate characters, Dr Jekyll being a somewhat bland and platitudinous philanthropist, who has a tendency to grope with his right hand in the region of his heart, while Mr Hyde is a crouching, Quilp-like creature, a malignant Quasimodo, who hisses and snorts like a wild beast. As Dr Jekyll, Mr Mansfield does not strike one as an actor of remarkable resource; as Mr Hyde, however, he plays with a rough vigour or power which, allied to his hideous aspect, thrills the house, producing a sensation composed in equal measure of the morbidly fascinating and the downright disagreeable.
Bandmann’s production, which finally opened two days later, on the other hand was received less well. The London Correspondent of the Dublin Evening Mail for instance had this to say about the production: Mr Bandmann will not feel flattered by the reception accorded his version of “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” at the Opera Comique Theatre. There is a novelty about the performance it is true, but strange to say the novelty lies in the fact that Mr Bandmann makes the genial Dr Jekyll infinitely more repulsive than the revolting Mr Hyde. After this it is suggested that Mr Grossmith and Mr Burnand should aband-on their announced burlesque. Two parodies of the same subject are scarcely needed.
Longmans, meanwhile, immediately closed the production down after the opening night, and Bandmann was indicted before Justice Sterling at the Chancery Divisional Courts for infringement of copyright. Seemingly Mansfield and Irving won not only the battle, but also the war. A third production, George Grossmith’s satirical version with comic musical numbers entitled A Real Case of Hyde and Seekyll opened on 3 September at the Royalty, but this was hardly likely to be a considered a threat and no such tactics were employed this time.
However, despite the success enjoyed by Mansfield in his first month of the run, matters took a nasty turn on 31 August. From the beginning the links between the Ripper crimes and the evil Mr Hyde began to be made. This excerpt is from the Irish Times of 7 September:
The Whitechapel murder has taken a turn of most ghastly romance. Those whose sensations were not handicapped while they read it by a haunting idea that “the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” was a performance at least as grotesque as it was grim will remember how the horrible Hyde in one of his transformations, butcher-ed a woman just for the fun of the thing. That is an effective passage in the book, and those whom it thrilled with a pleasing terror will snatch fearful joy from the story of “Leather Apron”.
In fact no such thing happens in Jekyll and Hyde, but the intent of the writer is nonetheless obvious. He continues, later in the article,
His visage perpetually set in a malignant grin, and his sinister eye - a la Mr Hyde as you perceive - are enough to give a nervous person fits.
The comparison became a common one. From the Freeman’s Journal of three days later:
The fact that a woman was the victim in each case, and that she was poor, takes away the suspicion of robbery and suggests some unutterably fiendish motive such as that which is supposed to animate the mystical character of Hyde in Mr Stevenson’s book. When the devilish nature of Hyde was pictured in the novel nobody could believe that his prototype could be found in real life. These atrocities and apparently cause-less murders show that there is abroad at the present time in the East End a human monster even more terrible than Hyde.
The Star of 11 September printed a suggestion from one of its readers:
“MEANWHILE,” writes an eccentric correspondent, “you, and every one of the papers, have missed the obvious solution of the Whitechapel myst-ery. The murderer is a Mr Hyde, who seeks in the repose and comparative respectability of Dr Jekyll security from the crimes he commits in his baser shape. Of course, the lively imaginations of your readers will at once supply certain means of identification for the Dr Jekyll whose Mr Hyde seems daily growing in ferocious intensity. If he should turn out to be a statesman engaged in the harmless pursuit of golf at North Berwick - well, you, sir, at least, will be able gratefully to remember that you have prepared your readers for the shock of the inevitable discovery.”
However, some went further than simply comparing the murders to the story. Rather, a section of the public began to state, the story for may have been itself the inspiration behind the murders. The Daily Telegraph of 3 October included the following in its “Letters From The Public”:
‘G C’ has a fancy ‘that the perpetrator is a being whose diseased brain has been inflamed by witnessing the performance of the drama of 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' - which I understand is now wisely withdrawn from the stage. If there is anything in this, let the detectives consider how Mr Hyde would have acted - for there may be a system in the demonic actions of a madman in following the pattern set before him.’ And the Pall Mall Gazette of 4 October printed:
Possibly the culprit is an army doctor suffering from sunstroke. He has seen the horrible play, lives in Bayswater or North London, in perhaps a decent square or terrace, dressed well. Goes out about 10pm straight to Whitechapel. Commits deed. Home again to breakfast. Wash, brush-up, sleep. Himself again – Dr Hyde. Meantime, everybody scouring the scene of the tragedy for the usual type of a murderer.
It has been written several times that the Ripper crimes forced Mansfield to cancel the run of Jekyll and Hyde at the Lyceum with consequent financial loss to himself. However, this does not seem to have been the case. Certainly the run closed on the night of 29 September, the night before the double event, but this had been announced two weeks in advance and does not seem to have had anything to do with public pressure. Quite the contrary in fact, after just one week off the stage, Mansfield brought the production back by “popular demand” to run in repertory three nights a week alongside it’s replacement, his production of A Parisian Romance.
Mansfield continued to include Jekyll and Hyde in his canon of performances for the rest of his career which, like Stevenson’s, was tragically cut short by an early death at the age of 50 from cancer of the liver. His performance did not meet with universal favour, however. Writing in Sixty Years of Theatre, the critic John Ranken Towse wrote of him:
The play reproduced some of the leading incidents of the story and some of the text, but very little of its spirit, significance, and power. As for the performance of Mr Mansfield of the double personality, that was full of melodramatic effect and theatrical strokes, but showed very little sympathetic imagination. It was in the externals that gratify the crowd, not in the clairvoyance of a perfect intelligence, that it excelled. Jekyll he represented as a young, sallow, melancholy student, with cleanly shaven face, very dark and heavy eyebrows, and long, black hair. Far from being the jovial, debonair man of the world, he was haunted by the terrors of his position, a sort of Hamlet in a frock coat. Hyde he made a nightmare of goblin hideousness, a white, leering vampire, with a ferocious mouth and glazing eyes, deformed, lame, palsied, and infirm. A loathsome object, certainly, and, to a certain extent, like a medieval demon, suggestive of evil, but not half so appalling or infernal as the shrivelled Hyde of the original, with his horrible lightness, activity, and energy, impressing the observer with a sense of a deformity which did not actually exist. The subtleties of this creation eluded Mansfield completely. For an imaginative symbolism - in which Irving, who once meditated playing the character, would have revelled - he could only substitute something grossly palpable and material. He utterly failed to denote that one character was supplemental to the other. Essentially the difference between his two men was physical.
The moroseness and gloom of Jekyll had much in common with the sullen ferocity of Hyde. By making Jekyll buoyant and convivial, as he is expressly described in the book, he would have prepared a much finer and more artistic dramatic contrast. That he showed much acting power in illustrating his grotesque idea of Hyde, I fully acknowledge, but it was not of an inspired kind. J B Studley, and others of the old Bowery melodramatic days, could have done as much. He was at his best in his scene with Dr Lanyon, where, after getting the drugs, Hyde taunts him with his incredulity and curiosity. At this juncture there was a dash of the demoniacal in his voice and gesture, but the double impersonation, as a whole, evinced no astonishing amount of intuition, or genuine versatility, and was wholly unworthy of the rhapsodical encomiums lavished upon it. Some of the critics seem to have accepted the commonest of theatrical tricks as unprecedented miracles.
The question remains, then, was the Ripper inspired by Hyde? It seems unlikely, if not impossible. There is nothing in the novel to suggest the kind of murder and mutilation committed by the Whitechapel murderer. It seems more likely, indeed, that the Ripper himself would have an inspiration in reverse on somebody involved in that production. The young Irish theatre manager of the Lyceum during the production was one Abraham “Bram” Stoker, who would nine years later publish Dracula to universal critical acclaim.
However, it is notable that the murder of Martha Tabram occurred just two days after Mansfield’s production opened at the Lyceum, and it is equally true that this kind of Gothic horror was something of a new phenomenon to the sensibilities of the late Victorians. If life truly does imitate art then just maybe one deranged member of the audience was inspired by the horrors he saw on the stage to try his hand at the real-life thrill. Perhaps Lord Salisbury and his Tory government of 1888 should have passed a “theatre nasties” act in the same way that their counterparts would proscribe the videos of a century later.