Tag Archives: Jack the Ripper

New Book on Spring-Heeled Jack Explores Jack’s History, including Gothic Connections

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack: From Victorian Legend to Steampunk Hero by John Matthews is a fascinating look at a sometimes overlooked character who has had a significant impact on sensational and Gothic literature as well as the public’s imaginations and fears for nearly two centuries now. Matthews, who is perhaps best-known for his many books on the Arthurian legend, has compiled nearly every known reference and possibility related to Spring-Heeled Jack into this book.

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

Those not familiar with Spring-Heeled Jack will wonder why they have never heard of him. He first appeared in London and its surrounding areas in 1838 and continues to be sighted every few years, it seems, both in England and now the United States and perhaps even in a few other places around the globe. His origins lie in several startling attacks he made upon unsuspecting women in the early Victorian period. He is frequently described as dressed in black, wearing a cape, having long fingers, pointy ears, and eyes that glow red or blue. His most famous feature, however, is his amazing ability to spring or leap enormous distances, sometimes twenty feet from the ground to a roof or even thirty feet from one rooftop to the next.

In this encyclopedic book about all things Spring-Heeled Jack, Matthews begins by going back to the original sources. He quotes in detail the numerous newspaper reports of Jack and his attacks upon his victims. Most of his attacks were relatively mild, just appearing and frightening women, or mildly assaulting them, although in some cases, he attacks with knives, especially the men who pursue him.

Jack was likely some sort of criminal who developed a spring mechanism for his shoes, but just who he was has never been fully revealed. He quickly became a legend and soon many copycat crimes were occurring; some of these criminals were caught but others not. Jack also often acted like the typical highwayman who was a popular literary figure in the Newgate novels of the 1830s, and later, Jack the Ripper at least left behind one note where he signed himself as Spring-Heeled Jack, though as Matthews notes, Jack the Ripper was a serial murderer while Spring-Heeled Jack’s crimes are far less severe and seem mostly intended just to shock and frighten people. Nevertheless, the Ripper’s crimes took place in the 1890s, showing that Spring-Heeled Jack retained a hold on the Victorian imagination.

While the historical newspaper accounts are interesting, for me, what is more fascinating is Jack’s appearances in literature. Matthews details how Jack soon became part of popular culture. By 1840, there was a stageplay produced about him. In 1867, there was a penny dreadful published titled Spring-Heeled Jack—The Terror of London, and in 1878, another serial was published with the same name. The difference between these two works is significant. In the first, Jack is depicted as a demon figure. In the latter, he is a young nobleman deprived of his inheritance whose actions are based on his desire to get revenge on those who have cheated him; others copy his crimes, but this second penny dreadful makes it clear that Jack is a clever trickster type of hero. I find this transition in Jack’s character fascinating since I am a firm believer that the Gothic Wanderer figure in nineteenth century literature was eventually transformed into our modern-day superhero figure. In this version, Jack has the qualities of the Gothic Wanderer in being disinherited, although he is lacking guilt and commits no true crimes.

Equally fascinating is the possibility that Jack is an early version of Batman. Matthews notes that there is no evidence that Batman’s creator, Bob Kane, knew anything of Spring-Heeled Jack, but he provides plenty of evidence that bat-man figures were in the popular imagination well before Batman arrived on the scene. (More on that below.)

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

Matthews devotes a great deal of time trying to determine the origins of Spring-Heeled Jack as a fictional or popular culture figure beyond whether or not he was a true historical criminal. He digs back into mythology looking at Jack’s origin in devil figures (one of Captain Marryat’s novels, Mr. Midshipman Easy, from 1835 is cited as a source here also; in it a character wears a devil’s costume and springs into a house frightening people), Jack the Giant Killer (with a nod to King Arthur here), the popular Jack-in-a-Box toy, and Robin Hood, since Jack is often depicted as a hero fighting against the rich. That said, Jack is also depicted as aristocratic and possibly preying upon the poor—one of the possibilities for his identity is the historical Marquis of Waterford.

This aristocratic side to Jack fascinates me and brings me to the one omission in the book, for which perhaps there is no evidence, but which seems to me very likely—that Jack influenced the creation of Dracula and the vampire legend. Of course, the vampire figure had already been popularized in England with John Polidori’s The Vampire in 1819. But the depiction of vampires still had a long way to go before Dracula set the standard for vampire characteristics. One of the possible sources for Spring-Heeled Jack that Matthews cites is the “Moon Hoax of 1835” in which it was claimed that a civilization had been discovered on the moon and that it was inhabited by winged men which were called “man-bats.” This may well be the first suggestion of men connected to bats. Of course, Dracula has the ability to change into a bat in Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, and as I’ve pointed out in my previous blogs about French novelist Paul Féval, vampires were also associated with bats in his novel Vampire City (1875). Could Spring-Heeled Jack, whose cape is often depicted as looking like wings tied to his arm, have also influenced the depiction of Dracula? I have not been able to find any link between Stoker and Spring-Heeled Jack, but the Jack was in the popular imagination so doubtless Stoker knew of him. Note that Dracula is also a count and Stoker’s novel has been read as being a story about how the nobility preyed upon the lower classes. Dracula’s victims, like Jack’s, are also predominantly female.

Another interesting connection between Spring-Heeled Jack and Dracula can be found in another possible version of Jack that Matthews mentions—The Mothman, who was first sighted in 1966 in West Virginia and whom the film The Mothman Prophecies was made about. The Mothman is also winged and can fly. Interestingly, it is claimed he was spotted just before the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001—this suggests he might play a role in political events. Similarly, the Wandering Jew has often been said to appear during historical events, including the French Revolution and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Wandering Jew is often cited as an influence upon Stoker, particularly because Stoker was manager for the actor Henry Irving and he encouraged Irving to consider playing the Wandering Jew. Stoker also wrote about the Wandering Jew in his book Famous Impostors. Jack the Ripper’s murders were also associated with the Jews as instigators of the crimes. Could Spring-Heeled Jack have had some connections to the Wandering Jew in the popular imagination?

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

In any case, the story of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true historical and literary mystery that continues to fascinate. Matthews concludes the book by looking at Jack’s appearances in film, television series, and comic books in more recent years. He omits mention that Jack also was featured in an episode of the short-lived 2016 television series Houdini and Doyle, likely because the book was already being prepared for printing when the series aired, but it shows that Matthews’ prediction at the end of the book that Spring-Heeled Jack will likely be around for many years to come is true without a doubt.

The book also contains numerous illustrations, including several colored plates, and the appendices contain the full text of the 1878 penny dreadful version of Jack’s story.

Overall, The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true treasure trove for anyone interested in Jack himself, or popular culture, Victorian crime, the Gothic, comic books, or superheroes. It’s published by Destiny Books and is available worldwide including all the major online booksellers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Superheroes and the Gothic, The Wandering Jew

Dracula: The New Wandering Jew and Anti-Semitism

I have previously posted about the Wandering Jew in Gothic fiction, which can be read at: https://thegothicwanderer.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/the-wandering-jew-a-staple-of-the-gothic-wanderer-tradition/

 Following is an excerpt from my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption about Dracula’s Wandering Jew Origins:

Stoker’s ambiguity about Dracula’s origins is part of his novel’s strength but a frustration for the literary critic. It is impossible to know how easily Victorian readers accepted the plausibility of Dracula’s existence. Readers today cannot recreate such an experience because our culture is saturated with images of vampires that make readers knowledgeable about Dracula from childhood; consequently, those who read Dracula today are already willing to suspend their disbelief. Stoker’s personal feelings toward his famous character are equally difficult to determine; he appears to have both loathed and sympathized with Dracula, and therefore, placed Dracula in the role of outcast, a role with which Stoker, as an Irishman living in England, may have identified. Dracula’s role as racial outsider results from Stoker giving him Jewish attributes and largely basing him on depictions of the Wandering Jew. Although not Jewish, Stoker’s first name, Abraham, may have resulted in people believing he was Jewish. His role as Irish outsider may have further allowed Stoker to identify with the Jews as outcasts. Finally, Stoker’s homosexual inclinations meant he had to hide his true nature, so Stoker may have felt he was living under a false identity as Dracula must conceal his vampirism to survive (Malchow 155). Dracula’s eroticism may have resulted from Stoker’s own repressed sexuality. After 1895, Oscar Wilde’s famous trial resulted in laws against homosexuality becoming stricter, meaning Stoker would have feared to have his homosexuality discovered. Stoker personally knew Oscar Wilde, so Wilde’s situation must have caused Stoker emotional turmoil. Stoker may have even loathed his own sexual inclinations because he feared the discrimination that resulted from Wilde’s trial. Consequently, Dracula’s roles as outsider, pseudo-Jewish, and sexually deviant may have been an embodiment of those personal qualities that most bothered Stoker. This personal self-loathing may have made Stoker both sympathize with Dracula and simultaneously detest him. Stoker’s sympathy toward Dracula resulted in Dracula’s redemption, but Stoker’s personal self-hatred prevented Dracula’s redemption from occurring by any means but violent destruction.

Besides his possible personal identification with the Jews as outcasts, Stoker was very interested in the legend of the Wandering Jew, whose attributes are echoed in Dracula. Stoker may have known the works of Lewis and Maturin, but he was most fascinated by French author Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1845), which depicts the figure as a rebel and Romantic wanderer who achieves the reader’s sympathy by his benevolence toward humanity. The Wandering Jew becomes the hero of the work by defeating humanity’s real enemies, the Jesuits (Malchow 149, 156). Stoker’s fascination with Sue’s novel resulted in his heavily researching the Wandering Jew legend in the British Museum, as he did with the vampire legend. Stoker’s friend, Hall Caine, later remarked that the Wandering Jew became “one of Bram’s pet themes” (Malchow 156), and Stoker would include a section on the Wandering Jew in his book on famous impostors (Malchow 156). As secretary to the famous actor Henry Irving, Stoker even suggested that Irving perform a dramatic version of Sue’s novel (Malchow 156). There is good evidence, therefore, that Stoker intentionally used the Wandering Jew as a source for his depiction of Dracula.

The Wandering Jew as painted by Samuel Hirszenberg in 1899

The Wandering Jew as painted by Samuel Hirszenberg in 1899

Dracula’s debt to the Wandering Jew is most obvious in their shared physical characteristics. An 1873 stage version of Eugene Sue’s novel, produced by George Lander, describes the Wandering Jew as having “long jet-black hair and jet-black eyebrows, dressed in a long black robe” (Malchow 156-7). Dracula’s description is similar and may have been derived from Stoker’s memory of the play. Of course, the obvious physical similarity between the Wandering Jew and all vampires is the emphasis upon the eyes. Dracula has the same powerful hypnotic eyes attributed to the Wandering Jew, but Stoker also elaborates upon the eye description by giving Dracula’s eyes a red gleam suggestive of the “evil eye.” According to Matthew 6:22-3, the eye reflects the state of the soul, and Dracula’s eyes suggest this connection early in the novel. When Dracula makes his first appearance, his “eyes gleamed” (26), and later when Dracula sees that Jonathan Harker has cut himself while shaving, his eyes “blazed with a sort of demoniac fury” (34). Such descriptions reveal Dracula’s true evil nature (Wolf 10).

Dracula further shares with the Wandering Jew a supernaturally extended life. Both characters converse with great knowledge of the past, which amazes listeners who are ignorant of the speakers’ extensive ages. Such is Jonathan Harker’s experience upon first hearing Dracula’s conversation.

 

In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all. This he afterwards explained by saying that to a boyar the pride of his house and name is his own pride, that their glory is his glory, that their fate is his fate. Whenever he spoke of his house he always said “we,” and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking. I wish I could put down all he said exactly as he said it, for to me it was most fascinating. It seemed to have in it a whole history of the country. (37)

 

While Dracula and the Wandering Jew share protracted lifespans, they are in opposition in their desires for such long lives. The Wandering Jew is weary of life and longs for death, but Dracula actively seeks to prolong his life by his supernatural activities. William Day observes that for Dracula to become supernatural, he must both be part of the natural world, while correspondingly reversing natural biological processes. In the natural world, the living feed on the dead, but Dracula is the dead who feeds on the living, and by this feeding he prolongs his life (41).Dracula1stedition

Dracula’s active desire to prolong his life is largely achieved by his ability to control Nature. By contrast, the Wandering Jew has no control over Nature, which acts against him as when the water recedes if the Jew attempts to drown himself, or the volcano spits out the Jew if he tries to jump in. Dracula, however, can control Nature, thus prolonging his life by his ability to move about in various forms, granting him numerous advantages and means for seducing potential victims while protecting himself from capture or destruction. In the novel, Dr. Van Helsing explains Dracula’s power over Nature:

 

he can, within limitations, appear at will when, and where, and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements; the storm, the fog, the thunder; he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the moth, and the fox, and the wolf; he can grow and become small; and he can at times vanish and come unknown. (265)

 

Dracula’s control of the elements suggests his role as Antichrist because he has Christ-like powers. Christ is able to control the elements as in Mark 4:39-41 when he calms a storm at sea to protect his disciples. This idea of a Gothic character controlling the elements is not original to Stoker, who may have borrowed it from Bulwer-Lytton. In Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), the evil magician, Arbaces, is believed by the other characters to have control over the elements, and in the same author’s “The Haunted and the Haunters” (1857), a character remarks that a mesmerist, Richards, has similar powers: “I have seen him affect even the weather, disperse or collect clouds, by means of a glass tube or wand” (322). Dracula’s ability to “vanish and come unknown” also links him to the Wandering Jew who inexplicably can appear and disappear from places, especially at moments of historical importance. Stoker borrows the Jew’s mysterious movements for Dracula, but provides an explanation for how Dracula achieves such mobility.

Stoker also builds upon the Wandering Jew’s connection to the biblical Cain in his depiction of Dracula. The Wandering Jew traditionally bears a mark on his forehead that recalls the mark God gave to Cain for murdering Abel. Beirman states that Stoker was fascinated by the tale of Cain’s murder of Abel and planted the biblical story in the novel (Farson 155). Dracula receives a mark like that of Cain when Jonathan Harker strikes him upon the forehead. In revenge, Dracula places a mark upon Mina’s forehead, signifying that she belongs to him, so she is now an outcast from heaven like himself (Wolf 270). Dracula is further connected to Cain when his disciple, Renfield, refers to himself as Enoch, the biblical son of Cain (Farson 155).

Stoker made one final connection between Dracula and the Wandering Jew that he later deleted from the final version of Dracula. In the original second chapter that was later removed, Jonathan Harker’s journey to Dracula’s castle includes a stop in Munich, where he sees a performance of Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman. The story of the Flying Dutchman is similar to that of the Wandering Jew; the Dutch captain must roam the seas forever in a cursed phantom ship until Judgment Day because he defied God by committing murder like the biblical Cain (Belford 217).

While Stoker’s interest in the Wandering Jew carried over into aspects of Dracula’s character, Stoker’s use of Jewish characteristics for Dracula also reflected the growing anti-Semitism of late Victorian England. Anti-Semitism was becoming popular at the end of the nineteenth century because of increased migrations of Eastern European and especially Jewish people into England (Zanger 34). During this period, the press continually discussed the Jewish “problem,” largely by attacking the immigration of Jews into England and the financial world, with which they were stereotypically associated (Malchow 130). While Stoker could have had his novel consist of Jonathan Harker’s visit to Transylvania, Stoker’s decision to have the novel center around Dracula’s migration to England is intended to symbolize the migration of Eastern European Jews to England in the late nineteenth century (Malchow 162). Dracula’s intent to colonize England with a race of vampires reflects an English fear that the Jews would take over England. The destruction of the “Jewish” Dracula becomes a “socially acceptable” way to express a widespread English desire to rid England of the Jews (Zanger 36). Stoker’s self-loathing of himself as an outcast, and his identification with the Jews as outcasts, may have contributed to his depiction of Dracula’s murder, thus granting the novel an anti-Semitic layer of meaning.Bram_Stoker_1906

Besides his literary origins in the Wandering Jew, Dracula has numerous other Jewish attributes, especially his role as a racial outsider. Dracula fears recognition as an outsider while he is in England, so he explains to Jonathan Harker that he wishes to blend in with English society. Dracula’s role as “Other,” however, largely operates from his being a vampire and his perverse sexual behavior represented by his blood sucking. Dracula as “Other” poses a sexual threat in the novel that flourishes upon myths that Eastern and dark skinned men, including Africans and Jews, have greater sexual prowess than Western European men (Hatten 129, Malchow 149, 151). Such sexual fears of the “Other” resulted in numerous stereotypes of the Jewish people during the Victorian period, including their being rapists, cannibals, and polygamists. Dracula’s forced seduction of Lucy and Mina are symbolic of rape. Rape was an activity associated with Jews because of the murders committed by Jack the Ripper. Among the suspects for the identity of Jack the Ripper was a Jewish kosher butcher who had the instruments and the skills required to carry out the mutilations the Ripper inflicted upon his victims (Zanger 42). Of the one hundred thirty people questioned as suspects for being Jack the Ripper, a high proportion of them were Jewish, and ultimately, the police decided Jack the Ripper was probably a lower-class Jew from London’s East End (164). The widespread belief that Jack the Ripper was Jewish reflects the racism of Victorian England that sought to blame the Jews for its problems. Stoker capitalized upon this racist stereotyping by depicting Dracula as a sexual predator.

Besides being regarded as rapists, Jewish people were stereotyped with various forms of sexual deviance, including intended corruption of women and the innocent. In George DuMaurier’s Trilby (1894), Svengali the Jew has hypnotic eyes which he uses to seduce the heroine Trilby to carry out his will. Similarly, Dracula seduces Mina, and then tries to force her to help him in protecting himself from his enemies. Jews were also depicted as corrupting children. In Oliver Twist (1838), Fagin preys upon boys, using them as tools for his acquisition of wealth. More severe depictions included Jewish men as cowardly homosexual degenerates who preyed upon innocent boys; such representations easily extended to the metaphor that Jews were like vampires, for vampires seek their victims during nocturnal hours, the same time when homosexuals are most likely to contact one another (Malchow 141, 163). Vampires, Jews, and homosexuals were also all associated with strange smells believed to arise from the bodily emissions of masturbation or the fecund odor of sodomy (Malchow 141). Jewish men were even believed to menstruate; this bleeding provided yet another metaphorical link to vampires (Mulvey-Roberts, “Dracula” 830). After Oscar Wilde’s trial in 1895, anxieties increased over gender issues, and Stoker, who had his own anxieties over his homosexuality, used such anxieties to make Dracula all the more frightening by suggesting his sexual deviance (Gary Day 82).

More popular as a Jewish stereotype than their perverted sexuality was the belief that Jews were wealthy. Because many Jews were usurers, they were comparable to vampires because they could financially drain their debtors. Blood and money became metaphors for one another because both are necessary to sustain life. Consequently, Jews, and especially usurers, were treated as types of vampires in literature. In Mary Shelley’s Valperga (1823), usury is associated with vampirism when Castruccio, upon learning that Pepi has engaged in usury, calls Pepi, “Thou vile Jew…A usurer, a bloodsucker!” (216). In Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son (1848), during an estate auction “herds of shabby vampires, Jew and Christian, over-run the house” (Pool 98). At least, Dickens admits that Christians can behave as badly as Jews. In Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875), the Jewish financier and swindler, Melmotte, is described as swallowing up the property of all whom he does business with, which is likened to his feeding upon the blood of widows and children (Zanger 38). Stoker builds upon such stereotypes by depicting Dracula as extremely wealthy and also miserly in his hiding of his money—he has a hidden treasure in Transylvania which is marked by a blue flame. Dracula’s extreme wealth is most dramatically depicted when the male protagonists attempt to capture Dracula at his London house. In the attack, Dracula’s clothes are torn, resulting in gold and bank notes falling from his clothing as if he were bleeding money (339). This scene recalls Shylock’s famous speech about Jews in The Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” (III, i, 56) (Zanger 42).

Bela Lugosi, the most famous actor to play Dracula on screen in the 1931 film. When the film premiered, people in the audience were said to have fainted from the horror.

Bela Lugosi, the most famous actor to play Dracula on screen in the 1931 film. When the film premiered, people in the audience were said to have fainted from the horror.

Stoker also uses typical stereotypes regarding the Jewish religion to enhance Dracula’s role as vampire. Jews were falsely believed to drink blood in their religious rituals, although the Old Testament specifically forbid blood consumption (Leviticus 10:14, Deuteronomy 12:23). Furthermore, Jews were frequently depicted as murdering Christians to obtain blood for their Passover feasts (Zanger 37). Dracula’s blood consumption, therefore, aligns his activities with the Jewish religion, and makes both appear as the reverse of Christianity. Dracula is likened to the vengeful God of the Old Testament, who demands blood sacrifices; therefore, Dracula’s blood consumption reflects the metaphor that the Jewish people’s Old Testament religion is a form of vampirism (Malchow 161-2).

These numerous Jewish attributes associated with vampires make Dracula the embodiment of a racist stereotype. His destruction, then, may be read as a form of racist murder and an attempt to preserve racial purity in England. At the same time, his outsider status makes him somewhat sympathetic to a modern reader. Dracula’s role as outcast is also based in his Jewish attributes because like the Jews, he is denied the salvation that Christians are promised. Dracula’s evil and supernatural nature and his blasphemy of Christianity ultimately cast him in the role of Antichrist.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew