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Druitt and "The Lodger"

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  • Druitt and "The Lodger"

    Here is something I completely missed when I wrote my first book on "Jack The Ripper".

    In that book I had mentioned that Marie Belloc Lowndes' best-selling novel "The Lodger - A Story of the London Fog" (1913) had been inspired by not only The Ripper case, but specifically had been exploited by both Macnaghten and Sims for their own propagandist purposes.

    For example, the retired police chief in his 1914 memoir had specifically mentioned the novel (though not the author's name) to both praise it as a work of fiction and then debunk it as not historically accurate - but then, shamelessly, appropriated it's deus ex machina to explain how the un-named Druitt became known to his own people as the Fiend. The people the "protean madman" lived with, presumably his family, noticed that their reclusive member only left home the same nights as the murders.

    George Sims revealed the same element, even more explicitly, in an article for "Pearson's Weekly" in 1915, in which for the first and only time he revealed that the murderer resided in the suburb of Blackheath.

    What Macnaghten does not mention is that he is in "The Lodger"; as the thinly fictionalised Police Commissioner Sir John Burney: described as tall, handsome, with a military bearing, and displaying bags of charm as he shows around Madam Tussauds a French police chief and his daughter (Mac's favorite location as a boy, apart from Eton.

    What Sir John does not know, and never knows, is that the novel's Ripper figure - Mr Sleuth, the self-designated "Avenger": a young, handsome, affluent, English gentile who has escaped from an asylum placed there by the same police chief - is also, coincidentally, visiting the waxworks at the same time. Mr Sleuth spots the chief and has a complete meltdown. It is implied that he instantly kills himself, wrongly thinking that a police trap is about to snap shut. Certainly he vanishes, from the reader's point of view, a presumed suicide though it is left vague as to how he exactly did this.

    Also, George Sims appears as himself in the novel. Though he is not named it is clearly the famous writer who is attending a coroner's inquiry into one of the Avenger's murders. A crowd of acolytes surrounds Sims, and the story mentions - very flatteringly - his patented hair lotion, Tatcho, albeit also un-named.

    At this inquest one of the story's co-protagonists, the female landlady Mrs Bunting, manages to get a front-row seat and sits there in a state of acute agony because, she believes, she harbours the very murderer as her lodger. But to reveal it, she fears, would bring social ruin and ostracism upon herself and her landlord husband (she does not yet know that Mr. Bunting harbours the same agonizing suspicions about Mr Sleuth and the same fears about being tarred with The Avenger brush).

    This inquest scene reminded me of William Druitt at the inquest into his brother's suicide, e.g. knowing things but not revealing them. More defensible in William's case because, if he did know that Montague was the killer, at least his mad sibling was safely dead - so why destroy the family by divulging the big secret?

    My error, a basic one, was not to check the short story version of "The Lodger" from 1911, which Lowndes had soon after expanded.

    In the shorter version the fictionalised Mac is there, Sims is not, Mr. Sleuth is middle-aged rather than young - and the fate of the Avenger is explicit.

    He drowned himself in Regent's Canal. Here is the line from the last page, the opening of which was excised from the longer, novel version within two years:

    "Five days later Bunting [the landlord] identified the body of a man found drowned in the Regent's Canal as that of his lodger; and, the morning following, a gardener working in the Regent's Park found a newspaper in which were wrapped, together with a half-worn pair of rubber-soled shoes, two surgical knives."

    Consider that we, the reader, know that whilst Bunting truthfully identified the corpse as his lodger, he is also holding back from the authorities his virtual certainty that this drowned man was The Avenger.

    Arguably, if you put together the Mac memo(s) claiming the family believed and/or suspected, Sims' writings from the 1900's in which the "friends" are trying to find the missing "mad doctor", and the dodgy testimony of William Druitt at the inquest into his brother's suicide, here is yet another example of a source that is a mixture of fiction, or fiction inspired by fact. Remembering that Macnaghten is in both versions, Sims is in one and both used the method of the detection of the reclusive The Avenger (by those closest to him) to claim it was identical to The Ripper.

    In reality it was a confession to a priest that lifted the veil on Druitt's double life, but "The Lodger" provided a fictitious buffer against having to go anywhere near that truth.

    Lowndes claimed that un-named guests at a party told her that their servants believed that when they were landlords they had hosted the murderer as a lodger. I think this was a polite fiction.

    What really happened is that Lowndes conferred with Sims and Mac about their 'Drowned Doctor' solution. Why would she not, since she knew Sims and his Ripper profile was supposedly the semi-official solution. She simply created a variation of Sims' Drowned Doctor - some bits were kept and some dropped to create her own stand-alone fiction (with Mac in it). She was told the 'Drowned Doctor' was the truth, but that for propriety's sake it would have to be heavily fictionalised.

    I don;t think she ever knew it was already impenetrably fictionalised.

    William Druitt identifying his brother's body but keeping his mouth firmly shut about the same dead sibling's dark side slipped through. But when Lowndes moved to expand the tale for a novel, with a potentially wider readership, Mac and Sims requested that the element - about the drowned body being recovered, and a person close to the dead man identifying him whilst secretly knowing he was also a maniacal murderer - removed, just to be on the safe side. Lowndes complied.

    The location where The Avenger drowned himself is not, of course, the Thames River where Montie Druitt actually killed himself. On the other hand, Sims' home was in Regent's Park opposite Regent's Canal.