On Saturday 4th August, 1888. a new play opened at the Lyceum Theatre in London, which, with hindsight at least, could be seen as a prelude to the Jack the Ripper murders which, within a month of the play’s opening, would be terrorising the East End of London.
The play, which had been adapted for the stage by the American writer Thomas Russell Sullivan (1849 -1916), was a dramatisation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and it starred the American actor Richard Mansfield (1857 – 1907) in the dual role of the protagonists of the title.
NO CRITICAL ACCLAIM
In truth, the play did not exactly meet with critical acclaim, albeit the Victorian audiences appear to have lapped it up, as several extra performances had to be staged to cope with the audience demand.
The Edinburgh Evening News, on Monday, 6th August, 1888, for example, commented on the character of Dr Jekyll that:-
“…The moody Jekyll himself, with his croakings, and his warnings, and his laboured melodramatic asides is about the last person in the world with whom any girl would be likely to fall in love. Mr Richard Mansfield obviously has his reasons for making Jekyll a bore, chiefly in order to accentuate the character of the doctor’s other self, Mr Hyde.”
However, the newspaper did concede that Mansfield’s portrayal of Mr. Hyde was memorable:-
“The first appearance of this uncanny individual at the window of Sir Danvers Carew’s house at night is very striking. He rushes in at the garden door and demands that Sir Danvers shall at once bring forward his daughter. This piece of insolence is naturally resented, and the audience are not likely to forget the ghoulish manner in which Hyde leaps at his victim, and with the hiss of a wild cat, buries his long claws in the old man’s neck, and batters the life out him…”
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE;
The next day, The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, in its edition Tuesday, 7th August, 1888, was equally unimpressed with the production:-
“Wars and rumours of wars” – in litigation – have invested this play, produced on Saturday night at the Lyceum Theatre, London, with an interest that patient and careful hearing proved to be spurious and artificial.
As psychological study the story was interesting and amusing; as a play, it is uneven, unequal, and unsatisfactory.
To those who may not have read the book it may be interesting to know that Dr. Jekyll, by means of a drug, separates the good elements of his character from the evil, and exists dually (good Dr. Jekyll and wicked Mr. Hyde) much on the same principle that the chemist uses electricity to separate the elements of hydrogen and oxygen in a volume of water, and shows them to us their antagonistic forms.
Mr. T. Russell Sullivan in his adaptation has unfortunately made this by no means clear.
The company who supported Mr. Mansfield, with the exception of Miss Sheridan, Miss Carew, and Mr. Crompton, were stagey and pedantic to a degree.
Dr. Jekyll as portrayed by Mr. Mansfield could hardly have failed to have inspired the anxious relations of any patients entrusted to his care with anything but very grave distrust. His manner could only have been accounted for by the possession of a guilty secret, or inordinately sluggish liver.
Instead of arousing feelings of love in the breast of a pretty young lady he would probably have brought on an acute attack of hysteria.
The transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde drew forth considerable applause.
Mr. Mansfield on the conclusion of the performance made a manly little speech, in which thanked the audience for the kindness with which they had received the piece, which kindness he felt he had not deserved.
He then paid a graceful compliment Mr. Irving, and retired amidst cheers.”
THE MURDERS AND THE PLAY
Inevitably, as the Whitechapel murders began to attract widespread media attention throughout September, 1888, comparisons were drawn between the perpetrator of the crimes and the dual character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and many commentators began to wonder if the play might have given rise to a real-life counterpart to the character(s).
As people attempted to come to terms with the possible motivation of the “monster of the slums”, who was exacting a dreadful reign of terror on the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, more and more people began to see Jack the Ripper in terms of Jekyll and Hyde, and were wondering if the reason why the perpetrator was proving elusive and impossible to catch, was because the man who was responsible for the atrocities was a respectable person by day, who was transformed by mania into a Hyde-like terror by night.
The Dundee Courier, on Friday, 5th October 1888, reproduced a letter that had appeared in London’s Evening Standard in which the writer opined that the reason that the police were proving unsuccessful in their attempts to solve the case was that they were looking in all the wrong places:-
A CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE
“Mr A. Eubule-Evans writes to The Standard:-
“May I suggest that it would be well if the police were, for once, not to confine their attention to “suspicious characters ” (so-called)?
When a man commits four separate murders in the same way, and on each occasion escapes without notice, the inference is irresistible that there is nothing whatever suspicious in his appearance.
On the contrary, he is probably a man of most respectable exterior, calm and composed in manner, certainly dressed in dark clothes, wearing probably dark gloves, and, possibly, even a tall hat.
HOW HE CARRIES OUT HIS CRIMES
His modus operandi involves no such struggle as would tear or disarrange his clothes. Standing, as he does, at the right shoulder of his victim, and a little behind her, he would not be bespattered by the blood. His left hand, which he places over his victim’s mouth and chin, would also escape pollution.
Nor is it at all necessary that in his horrible subsequent proceedings he need be covered with blood, if he stands well away from his victim as he bends over her.
That his hands should altogether escape bloodstains is improbable, working, as he does, in the dark, and it seems clear that he wipes them, and then, in all probability, puts on a pair of dark gloves.
Thus, when he leaves the scene of his crime, there is absolutely nothing in his appearance to excite suspicion.
For my part, I do not doubt that he passed several policemen on Sunday morning [30th September, 1888].
A RESPECTABLE APPEARANCE
The respectability of his appearance is proved by another consideration. Nothing else would account for the willingness of the last two victims to be led into danger while the neighbourhood was still aghast at the crimes previously committed. Each must have said to herself, “Well, I’m quite safe with him!” that is, there can have been nothing rough or suspicious in his appearance.
Probably, too, there was the offer of gold, but even this by itself would not have been sufficient to place themselves at a stranger’s mercy, had not his appearance been such as to disarm suspicion.
A MAN OF EDUCATION
When to these considerations we add the fact that the manner in which the crimes have been perpetrated goes far to prove that the perpetrator is a man of education, we are, I think, driven to a conclusion very different to that at which the police have arrived.
It is not in the common lodging- houses of Whitechapel that such a criminal must be sought. Were he such a man as haunts these places he must have been detected long ere this. It seems much more likely that he does not live in Whitechapel at all.
A LONELY, BROODING MONOMANIAC
He is probably a lonely, brooding monomaniac, well provided with money, occupying very likely a house by himself.
Then, at night, he puts on his murder suit, lets himself out with the latch key, does his deed of horror, and quietly returns home, none knowing, when he went out, or when he came back, or having any reason to suspect him.
INSPIRED BY JEKYLL AND HYDE
In conclusion, this is, I think, a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in real life, suggested possibly to some diseased imagination by that very story.
The murderer lives two lives, and is saved from detection by the extreme respectability of his everyday life, and by the fact that he has no accomplices or confidants.
For this reason, no reward seems likely to prove effectual, nor is he likely to be detected, unless caught redhanded.
On the other hand, his motive being notoriety, and the specific mutilation of his- victims being only, so to speak, his ghastly trademark, he is sure, sooner or later, to give himself up.”