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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes

I don't know much about Jack the Ripper. Fortunately, Janis Wilson knows a lot about him.

Janis, a Philadelphia attorney and writer, and I were the only panelists at a discussion of crime and detection in Victorian England at last month's Magna cum Murder conference in Indianapolis.

My knowledge of the Victorian era comes primarily from reading Sherlock Holmes. Although most of the Rathbone-Bruce movies, as well as BBC "Sherlock" and "Elementary," were set in contemporary times, I think of Holmes as -- in William Bolitho's fine phrase -- "the spirit of a town and a time."

Crime fiction was invented in the early Victorian period by Edgar Allen Poe and flourished in the late Victorian period under Arthur Conan Doyle. There were dozens of other writers of crime and detection on both sides of the ocean, but few are remembered today.

For Janis, a Ripperologist, the late Victorian age is dominated by the still-mysterious figure of Jack the Ripper, who was at large just as the first Holmes books were published. Not surprisingly, a large number of movies and books put Holmes to work solving the Ripper case. The earliest may have been the film A Study in Terror and the best may have been Lyndsey Faye's Dust and Shadlow.

Could Sherlock Holmes have solved the Ripper killings? No, says Janis Wilson, his cold logic would have been of little use again this mad murderer. But, she argues, Dr. Watson might have closed the case because he would have been familiar with the works of Sigmund Freud.

Interesting! Janis isn't a Sherlockian, but she has the makings of a fine Watsonian. What do you think about her theory? 

1 comment:

  1. It's a charming idea; but 1888 seems rather too early for anyone in England to have been influenced by Freud.