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5Q: With ALEX CHISHOLM

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  • 5Q: With ALEX CHISHOLM

    The Forums thanks Mr. Chisholm for his time,effort and responses to the 5 Questions Forum
    ---------------------

    Five Questions Response
    1. You have been credited as providing the first true critical assessment/analysis of the 1995 work "The Lodger" by Stewart P. Evans and Paul Gainey. The authors made note of the project you had undertaken entitled, A Revision Of History, in which you offered what the authors stated at the time as an..... " alternative reading of intitial coverage which would present the Press as the creators of Jack The Ripper."
    Considering the current brouhaha over Andrew Cook's book, in which Mr. Cook takes a position that Jack The Ripper was more or less a myth....have there been any signficant changes in your mind and expressed in your work since 1995, which would bolster Cook's position...or is your perception of the concept Cook expresses essentially different in that to you there was a Jack The Ripper figure, but with fewer kills attributable to his hand ?

    (A) 1. – A Revision of History, which quickly mutated into Done to Death: Whitechapel Murders and the Legend of Jack the Ripper, was essentially an outline proposal of potential areas of research into the creation and early development of the Ripper story; and I was more than pleased that Stewart and Paul thought it worth mentioning in the paperback edition of "The Lodger" in 1996. Since then I don’t think my views on the subject have changed significantly. As I see it, it is pretty much beyond doubt that ‘Jack the Ripper,’ as conventionally characterised, was a press, or more generally a cultural creation. Of course this is not to deny that murders were committed or that murderers were abroad in Whitechapel and beyond in and around 1888. What is in question, to my mind, is the number of murders attributable to a single Whitechapel murderer. That was my view in 1995 and remains so today. Naturally enough, Whitechapel murders, or more particularly the ‘canonical five,’ are a crucial component in any characterisation of ‘Jack the Ripper.’ I simply contend that reporting of these murders may have had an influence on their development and, therefore, on ‘Jack the Ripper – whether this be in enabling some murderers to escape detection, with their crimes being shrouded in the cloak of ‘Jack the Ripper’ or, as Dan Norder posits in his very interesting take on matters, that murder reports may have influenced the escalating brutality of a single killer. For me, nothing in this area is, or ever likely to be written in stone. As for Andrew Cook’s book, I feel it is an opportunity lost to more rigorously examine the potential possibilities of this particular area. So, I’m afraid I don’t see my views bolstering Cook’s position in any way or, on the other hand, his work significantly enhancing my take on things.

    2. With the likelihood of some of our membership not being cognizant of your contributions to the field ( The News From Whitechapel, with Forums member Dave Yost and Christopher Michael-DiGrazia...among other things...) which area of the Whitechapel Murders has been on the front burner of Mr. Alex Chisholm since the release of your work and how is that work proceeding at present?

    (A) 2. – Once Christopher-Michael, Dave and I wrapped up News from Whitechapel my attention turned to Richard Mansfield’s stage production of Jekyll & Hyde, which led to my most satisfying find to date when I located the Lyceum version of the play, long thought by such eminent figures as Professor Sir Christopher Frayling to have been lost to history. This all resulted in Jekyll and Hyde Dramatized, written in collaboration with Professor Martin Danahay, published in 2005. Since then, I’m afraid, health and other family issues have severely curtailed any further in-depth research, although I have continued with some newspaper research and transcribing in spare moments. Thankfully, things have dramatically improved in recent months and I’m looking forward to catching up with all things Ripperological in the months ahead.

    3. One of the perceptions that members of the Ripperological community have about themselves seems to be that the outside civilian world, whether in academia or in media, consider our field to be somewhat lacking in scholarship...a point that I, for one, dispute.
    How do you, as a scholar, assess the scholarly output in our field...taking Dr. Fido, Mr Begg, Dave Yost, Tim Riordan, Wolf Vanderlinden as examples...and what do you see around the corner for the field in the future in this area?

    (A) 3. – I think this perception is generally accurate but greatly undeserved. To my mind the scholarly output of the above-mentioned authorities, in common with the likes of Stewart Evans, Nick Connell, Keith Skinner, Donald Rumbelow, and far too many more ladies and gentlemen to mention, far out-strips the works of many academically accredited historians. Indeed, having just reviewed Andrew Cook’s Jack the Ripper, the bemoaning of ‘reverse research’ of ‘conspiracy buffs, pseudo historians and armchair detectives,’ as a catchall view of ‘Ripper’ studies is something I feel particularly vexed about at the moment. For my money, when it comes to scholarship and historiographically reputable presentation, I would choose anything by Wolf Vanderlinden over this latest historian’s foray into the field every day of the week, and twice on Sundays. As for what’s round the corner, well, I suppose, that’s anybody’s guess. What I am pretty sure about is that, with so many talented and knowledgeable people studying numerous aspects of Whitechapel murders and their context, the future for this field is in excellent hands and holds great promise.

    4. One might assume that with you being a scholar that you might be less interested in suspect-based theory or suspect-based works and more focused on the whole of the Case or evidentiary-Ripperology. Lets put the proverbial "gun to the head" of Alex Chisholm...and ask him to provide three viable suspects or perhaps even the suspect who interests you the most, regardless of whether he is worthy of consideration as being the Ripper at all. Remember, A.C., this gun is loaded too.... : )


    I’ll have to start here by remarking on this ‘scholar’ thing. Without doubt, I’m no more scholarly than many in this field and, it has to be said, far less so than some. Now with that out of the way, my own position – that the number of victims actually attributable to any single Whitechapel murderer has yet to be satisfactorily determined – doesn’t really lend itself to commenting upon any suspect. However, with How’s loaded gun lurking uncomfortably close, I suppose I would have to plump for Tumblety or Kosminski as potentially more plausible suspects than others. My choices here rest mainly on the expertise and knowledge of the greatly respected authorities that favoured these two, although, to the best of my knowledge, both Stewart and Paul remain to be wholly convinced by these characters. One work that I remember finding of particular interest was William Beadle’s Jack the Ripper: Anatomy of a Myth, so William Bury would probably be my third viable suspect choice. Of course, I’m not saying that I think any of these were Jack the Ripper.

    5. A non-Ripper related question: Which aspect of life in the LVP...lets select 1888...for the rank and file workingperson do you envy the most ( if any exist in your mind that are enviable ) or the least ?

    (A) 5. – As I see it, it’s difficult for any of us enjoying the comparative luxury of present-day society to begin to comprehend the abject poverty and horrendous conditions in which many were compelled to exist in 1888. Nasty, brutish and short; living and working conditions, coupled with the lack of what many of us would now consider the most basic of necessities, made life in the LVP far from enviable. As an incurable romantic, however, – and one that’s regularly scuppered in attempts to purchase basic coffee by a seemingly overwhelming barrage of mocca-chocca-cappo-lattes – I do think a relative simplicity of life, not to mention a greater sense of community, is something we’ve lost in exchange for the modern-day trappings we now enjoy.


    Hope the above ramblings are of some passing interest to anyone that reads them.


    Best Wishes
    Alex
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    Contact Howard@jtrforums.com
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