From Hell

by Alan Moore

Published 1999 572 pages

From Hell is a fictionalised account of the Whitechapel Murders of 1888 presented from the triple perspectives of the women who were killed, the police chasing bad leads, and a royal surgeon, Sir William Gull, who is tasked with performing the killings to keep the Prince of Wales's illicit child a secret. Gull, a Freemason, goes postal and hideously mutilates the women he kills to fulfil a Masonic rite to bring about the twentieth century, sending him travelling across time to inspire other killers and artists across the years.

I read this for the first time in my first year of university, and I remember being really struck by the graphic violence and the (relative) fidelity to the facts that we do know about Jack the Ripper. I think there was even a short period where I was convinced that William Gull was the real Ripper, even though Alan Moore makes it clear in the appendices that the whole thing is a fantastic fiction & nothing more.

This time around, however, I was struck with how much Moore presents the Whitechapel murders as an inevitability. The identity of Jack the Ripper, and the killer's motivations themselves, are almost unimportant: Moore uses a Masonic plot to add colour and richness, but similar murders had been ongoing for months, by August 1888, and they'd continue on afterwards. The real killer is the institutions that allowed people to fall through the cracks: the police, disengaged and confused; the wealthy, isolated from poverty and pain; the monarchy, extracting power from suffering; the economic system, pushing the underrepresented into the fringes of society, into the dark corners where cries of "Murder!" are commonplace.



On swimming laps in a pool for the first time in like, a decade at least.