Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
"The heart is an organ of fire"
Almasy, The English Patient
"London girls are the best in the world. There ain’t no doubt about it"
Chas and Dave
As a writer reading From Hell you have many reactions. You feel elevated, challenged, bewitched. But most of all you want to get Alan Moore and slap him right in the mouth. Punch his stupid hippy snake worshipping lights out. Because by producing something this good, this elegant, this complex he makes us all look bad. It’s his Bayeux Tapestry. 500 pages and he doesn’t drop a stitch. On one level an exposition of the Masonic conspiracy theory of the Jack the Ripper killings it is a startlingly dark, twisted and erudite vivisection of a still living Victorian England incorporating Masonic lore, theology, architecture, military history and psychogeography. It’s a tour de force. It’s his best work.
"The sleep of reason brings forth monsters and the fairytale monster made flesh by the masonic theory is royal physician Sir William Gull – widow’s son, surgeon, Mason, turned hitman, butcher and philosopher-god."
To deal with nominal starting point of the text: the Masonic conspiracy theory of Jack the Ripper is balls. A brilliant stupidity. It’s what happens when you stop thinking and start dreaming. In short: a fairytale. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters and the fairytale monster made flesh by the Masonic theory is royal physician Sir William Gull – widow’s son, surgeon, Mason, turned hitman, butcher and philosopher-god.
The bare bones of the theory are simple enough. Mary Kelly learns of a secret Catholic marriage between Prince Albert Victor and a shopgirl – a marriage that produces a child and a timebomb for the British constitution. To pay off the local protection racket her and her prossie friends attempt to blackmail the Crown. A paranoid Victoria enlists her physician William Gull to kill dem gal. Because that’s what you do when you rule the largest empire in history. Gull obliges, the threat to the Crown is removed and everyone lives happily ever after. Apart from the whores. They’re wormfood.
“Because protecting the Crown is but an alibi for Gull’s true work. This is no espionage. This is sacrament.”
Chapter 4, "What doth the Lord require of thee?", is the book’s theological cornerstone, psychological heart and literary high point. Gull takes his flunky and partner in crime, carriage driver John Netley on a tour of London’s landmarks, revealing his personal motivation for the coming murders. Because protecting the Crown is but an alibi for Gull’s true work. This is no espionage. This is sacrament.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Fields, Herne’s Hill, Cleopatra’s Needle – on any other day it’s a pleasant enough bustour tourist trap. But Gull tells his simpleton henchman they will "probe the ventricles of London, England’s heart". The murders will be a complex ritual sacrifice to ensure male domination over women. Because in the time of the cavemen, with survival depending on the miracle of fertility, mother goddesses were our mistresses. But through politics, science, sometimes force, man gained the upper hand. And eternal vigilance is the price of that victory.
"For the Sun God must reign for patriarchy to maintain. Be he Lud, Apollo, Ba’al or Christ. A powerful oppressive symbol. Blood black as treacle flows through the fairytale monster’s veins. He is a poet, a visionary, a genius. And quite mad."
Apollo versus Dionysius. The male Apollonian virtues of Logic, Science and Reason against the feminine Dionysian qualities: Magic, Art and Madness. This is the battle being waged and won every day.
Gull shows Netley phallic obelisks, built to glorify the harsh masculine glare of the sun. For the Sun God must reign for patriarchy to maintain. Be he Lud, Apollo, Ba’al or Christ. London will be the disciple’s altar for the sacrifice to the Sun God. A powerful oppressive symbol for the ages. Blood black as treacle flows through the fairytale monster’s veins. Misogyny is his organising principle. He is a poet, a visionary, a genius. And quite mad.
“He is merely viewing the 21st-century that he delivered with his atrocity. He sees this as he burns the heart of his last victim. Because the heart is an organ of fire.”
And he sees the future. He is afforded visions of the 20th century. High-tech offices in phallic skyscrapers, girls in short skirts, a motherfucking BlackBerry. Is he, like St John the Divine, viewing the last times? No. He is merely viewing the 20th century that he delivered with his atrocity. He sees this as he burns the heart of his last victim. Because the heart is an organ of fire.
What Moore achieves with From Hell is extraordinary. The discipline required to throw all those threads out: psychogeography, architecture, the fourth dimension, matriarchy-as-old-as-the-stars, Victoriana, Masonic mythology, Ripperology and then yank them all back to be weaved into a convincing, coherent and insanely complex Dionysian tapestry is just unfathomable. Eddie Campbell‘s bleak Hogarthian artwork brilliantly recreates the squalor of 1880s Whitechapel and is the perfect complement to Moore’s superstellar flights of fancy
"It’s stunning, compelling and above all beautifully written. No one will ever write anything as good on Jack the Ripper. Alan Moore is not touched by genius. He was molested by it as a child."
It’s stunning, compelling and above all beautifully written. It writes itself a childishly ambitious checklist of goals and achieves every one. It is recklessly bold. No one will ever write anything as good on Jack the Ripper. Alan Moore is not touched by genius. He was molested by it as a child.
The stupid hippy fuck.
The best thing about it: The fact that it even holds together under the weight of its neural network of connections, allusions and associations.
The worst thing about it: I suppose that its brilliance gives succour and encouragement to the dispossessed twunks who actually believe the Masonic conspiracy theory
The verdict on From Hell: Just one of those things you absolutely must read.
Marks out of 10: 9
Imagined: 11th March 2009