In Search Of A New Enthusiasm

Some days I wish I were a Ripperologist. In fact I’m not an anything. Ripperologists are those scholars whose lives are devoted to studying the crimes of Jack the Ripper, or the Whitechapel Murderer as the perpetrator was more commonly known at the time. It fascinates me. There were five “canonical” victims, and I’ll see if I can recall them:  Mary Anne (Polly) Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. (Got ‘em all – phew!). Some people think that murderer who dispatched these prostitute victims in 1888 actually killed a lot more people; some place the homicide sequence as starting earlier than this year and others believe it could have ended in 1891 or even later. These five women though are the ones everyone agrees on as Ripper victims. When the quirk comes over me, I’d like to include Martha Tabram, but that’s more just a function of how much I like her name and how 19th Century it sounds – in fact the M.O. doesn’t sound terribly similar to the others, although poor old Martha was stabbed quite a few times. There is something irresistibly fascinating about the mystery killer – some twisted souls such as I find true crime a fulfilling genre in general – but the fact that this topic also deals with the dirty, uneducated, poor people in the great metropolis of late-Victorian London, where the predominant impression we have is from accounts and fictional tales of ladies and gentlemen, coaches, pipes and cigars, dining at one’s club, wearing fine gloves and shielding one’s face with a parasol, horses and cabs, top hats, frock coats, butlers and maids, gentility, manners, and a refined style of life. We feel like we can gain an insight into what was happening in the live of ordinary Londoners, just as we don’t feel (if we’re honest) like we will ever know who committed these heinous crimes.

But no, I’m not a Ripper-or-anything-else-ologist. I’d like to read more on this subject, but feel that it is very unlikely I could ever make an intelligent comment about it. I struggle to make intelligent, coherent comments about the Arsenal Football Club, and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, and cricket, and Australian politics, and I really struggle when it comes to plants and the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I have little to say about religion or philosophy or geography that would not be laughed at by a well-informed interlocutor. I used to think I knew about stuff – you know, things – that I had a rounded set of interests and individual things to say about them, but I’m not sure about that now. It seems sometimes like I can’t even impress myself. I want to immerse myself in worlds – in Hunter S. Thompson to a greater degree, in the history of cricket, into orchids, and other things. But there doesn’t seem to be time and I feel so tired.

Perhaps most “experts” are simply pretentious individuals; those who possess a kind of faith in their own intellect which demonstrates very little beyond that faith. They are boring but don’t think they are. They trust no-one will challenge them. It’s a bluff, perhaps. I don’t know. What I do know is that I feel like learning something new or plunging right in and becoming absorbed by something that I thought had been merely an interest to me.

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