The book also lays heavy stress on Gull alleged membership of the Freemasons, on the supposed occult significances of the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor, many of which are in the vicinity of the murders, and it introduces a science fiction element with Gull's spirit traversing the fourth dimension and inspiring Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, not to mention (going backwards in time) Gull appearing as a scaly fiend in a vision to William Blake.
It is an immense sweep. I was happy to take it all on board although this might have been because I have read most of the major source books including the outstanding novel Hawksmoor by the brilliant and prolific Peter Ackroyd; Ackroyd's masterful biography of William Blake, and Stephen Knight's Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution. Without such a thorough grounding I might have become quickly lost; Moore provides extensive notes for the general reader.
Even with the notes I feel that the scope of the book was its downfall. There was a moment when Walter Sickert delivered the baby daughter of prince and shopgirl to the shopgirl's parents, said girl having been incarcerated in a mental asylum. At this point the grandfather confesses to incest with his daughter. This takes several frames, a tiny fraction of the book, amounting to perhaps a few paragraphs in a novel. One would have thought such a potentially major sub-plot deserved a little more (If the grandfather not the Prince was the father of the shopgirl's daughter then the child is not a royal bastard and perhaps less drastic action might be taken). Alternatively, leave it out entirely. This sort of occurrence left a feeling that this work was just looking at the surface of a story which had potentially a great deal more; it felt shallow and unsatisfying.
I suspect it is my own inability to properly appreciate the visual arts that makes me fail to recognise that the cartoon drawings add value. I suppose that they help to add an air of menace to the whole book but I would have preferred the potential for rich description that a traditional novel might have offered. Mea culpa for being such a words man.
Is this a Gothic work? Of course it has many of the classic Gothic elements such as horribly killed corpses, dark places, and even a ghost. The secret brotherhood (in this case the Freemasons) reminds one of the controlling Catholic priests in The Monk. It also incorporates science fiction which has been suggested as the new Gothic. The idea of a monster preying on women is very reminiscent of Dracula. But does this book have any of the thresholds and their transitions that have been suggested as characteristics of Gothic literature? There is the chapter of Gull spiritually travelling through space and time but this is scarcely fundamental to the story. There are two worlds, that of mundane Victorian London and the symbolic and spiritual Masonic London that exists in Gull's mind. This is an important theme and I suppose that if Gothic literature is equated with conspiracy theories this makes the work essentially Gothic.
My favourite line:
- Policeman talking about one of the butchered women: "makes you think there's naught to us but shit and mincemeat". This reminded me of remains of the corpse after the bombing in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent: "the by-products of a butcher's shop"
Alan Moore also co-authored graphic novel V for Vendetta.
October 2017; a lot of pages