Sunday, October 15, 2006

From Hell - Chapters 8 & 9

In these chapters, Moore narrows his cast, and goes deeper in his thematic exploration, setting things up for the work's climax in chapter ten. One of the things that's difficult about this book, and V For Vendetta, is telling the characters apart. Back when there was a crew of four prostitutes going around, it was not easy, and one good consequence of the rest being bumped off is that we can focus on Marie Kelly and get a real idea of how she lives her life. Moore casts a very vivid picture of nineteenth century life on the streets, and the way that the Ripper murders have wreaked havoc on these women's lives.

One of the notable things about the work is its sexual frankness. Most comics and films hold back from really explicit stuff, but here nothing's off limits. That makes things feel more real. "I had such a lovely fuck with Joe last night" could feel like an unnatural line, but it works in context and perfectly conveys Marie's feelings at that moment, she's searching for any small happiness in the apocalypse happening around her.

Kate Eddowes' path to death shows again how easy it is for these women to fall through the cracks. They're all living life night to night, and one failure, the inability to get enough money to stay over night somewhere can doom them. I think it's interesting that the men in their lives never really comment on their profession. They must now that they're whoring, but I guess it's accepted. There's not many options for women, in their culture this is the only acceptable path.

One of my favorite pieces of action in the book is Gull's lunge at Kate on 8.37. he's becoming more reckless, the Ripper spirit has possessed him and made him believe that he is guided by divine purpose. I love the scene where he says "This is the one I didn't finish, isn't it?" He's moving outside of time, seeing himself as a figure acting in a grand history. This is perfectly exemplified by the panel where, reveling in the murder, he slips through time into the twentieth century. However, in light of this knowledge he knows that this isn't enough. His unease indicates that the mission is not complete.

At this point, Gull is becoming more enamored of the Ripper myth. He does not just want to kill four women, he wants to be a figure of fear for women throughout time. That's why he embraces the theatrical elements of the murder, leaving clues to taunt the policemen and build his legend.

This is explored further in chapter nine, in the great sequence where he makes Netley write a letter to the police. Netley's growing unease is an interesting thread. I think he's at first intimidated by Gull's knowledge, unable to believe that such a wealthy, powerful man would be doing something wrong. He bought into Gull's mission, but is becoming aware that all he's really doing is killing. Gull may see the cultural significance, but Netley sees only the blood.

Even as Gull is writing a letter to increase his legend, we see that his work is unnecessary. The Ripper has become a god, worshipped by all who write letters to the authorities in his name. And along with this are those profiting off the Ripper legend, like the man selling the canes in the opening scene. This is a critical part of Moore's motivation in the work, the idea that Gull's killings are creating a new media world, where murder is entertainment, and we revel in fear rather than creativity.

When speaking to Victoria, Gull invokes the fear of revolution to justify the killings. He was called into action to prevent females from rising up and challenging the prince, the male authority in the kingdom. Through his killings, he hopes to suppress this female power and preserve the status quo. This theme is reinforced by Gull's conversation with yeats, where he chides Yeats for breaing from masonic tradition and challenging the crown.

The thing that still troubles me about the work is the contradictions in Gull. He is fighting to preserve the patriarchal world he has thrived in, yet he has such knowledge of the occult, and turns each killing into a magical act. The killings become a fusion of scientific coldness and artistic creativity, making him something of a hermaphrodite, drawing on both the 'male' and 'female' traditions. Gull is working to preserve tradition, but inadvertantly is building an entirely new reality.

Abberline is also running to issues with tradition and modernism. He comes from the lower class, and can't stand watching the upper crust detectives who are using ridiculous methods to attempt to solve the crimes. He's tried to blend into their world, but finds himself increasingly drawn to the more 'real' world of Whitechapel. His encounters with Mary Kelly are perfectly observed in their sexual dynamic. He desperately wants her, but is too much of a 'good guy' to admit that he's acting out of sexual attraction. His eventual breakdown at the end, saying they could get a nice room, is a concession to his base nature.

I'm not sure exactly how to place the gay relations between Eddy and Jem into the male/female dichotomy. By cutting out women, are they reasserting the power of an exclusively male world, or is their engagement in a deviant lifestyle undermining the principles of proper society? I feel like it's more an example of the royal family losing sight of their mission. Upper class society is breaking down, it's on the streets of Whitechapel where the new world is being born.

The lesbian relations between Marie and her various partners clearly fall on the female, dionystic side of the divide. Marie has been in a stable, heterosexual relationship with Joe, but it differs from tradition in that she holds most of the power. As time passes, she moves away from tradition into increasingly outre sexual practices. She starts with a threesome, which Joe cannot be a part of. Through sapphic love, Marie is reclaiming the power that women once held as mistresses of Diana. By bringing a woman into their bedroom, she has stripped Joe of all the power that he once held. Creating a household with just women is the ultimate strike against the patriarchy.

The final pages of this chapter are marvelously forboding, it's easy to feel Marie's fear as we watch Gull draw nearer. Their meeting is what the whole work has been building towards. Gull is trying to protect his world, while Marie is reaching back to the matriarchal society that scares him. He must act now to extinguish this threat.

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