Mapping Histories: The Golem and the Serial Killer in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
On 15 May 2008, an exhibition entitled ‘Jack the Ripper and the East End’ opened at the London Museum of Docklands: a large display containing artefacts from the late-Victorian period including photos of abject poverty; filmed ‘talking heads’ commenting on immigration and the social history of the area; police reports on the discovery of the victims, and, in the final room, pictures of suspects and the well-known, disturbing photographs of the victims’ corpses. The exhibition attempted to construct a history of Jack the Ripper in time and space, yet ultimately failed; the result, a fragmented experience and at the heart of it a lacuna, a lack which can never be filled by the murderer’s name but which has given rise to the myth that has prompted innumerable histories, fictions, and films. Iain Sinclair’s White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987) and Peter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994) form part of that body of work, yet the centrality of the Ripper narrative is undermined in both by the presence of the Golem myth via which Jewish history functions as a subtext. Ackroyd’s novel is set in the East End of the 1880s; Sinclair’s drifts between the Victorian past and its own twentieth-century present. Both are examples of what Linda Hutcheon has described as ‘historiographic metafiction’.
KeywordsMapping History Original Emphasis Jewish History Serial Killer Mass Murder
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