Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein

Today we welcome back the author and broadcaster John Bennett who has discovered a fascinating link between the Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein. Do tell John!

For many people, the figure of Jack the Ripper is one of the great bogeymen of horror, such as Sweeney Todd and Count Dracula, but did you know he has a close connection with one particular horror classic? Annie Chapman was brutally murdered in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, on the morning of 8 September 1888 and was the Whitechapel murder which truly started the mass panic and sensational reporting that surrounded the crimes. And it is in Hanbury Street that our connection with a most famous figure of horror fiction and film presents itself.

Hanbury Street was originally known as Browne’s Lane after a local landowner and many of the original 18th century houses still stand on the south side, opposite the bland wall of the former brewery of Truman Hanbury and Buxton. The houses on the north side, including No.29, were demolished to make way for this unimaginative building in 1970. Back in 1756, the owner of 27 Browne’s Lane, Granville Wheler, granted a lease to one Edward Wollstonecraft of Primrose Street, Bishopsgate, who went about rebuilding the house for himself. Three years later, his daughter Mary was born there. Browne’s Lane was renamed Hanbury Street, after the brewer, in 1876.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a remarkable woman for her time; a writer and philosopher, her best-known work being ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), which later led her to be considered as an important early figure in the establishment of equality for women. Mary’s life was interesting to say the least – she lived in France during the time of the revolution and whilst there gave birth to her first child, Fanny, from her relationship with American diplomat and adventurer Gilbert Imlay. France soon proved too dangerous for them and they returned to London in 1795, by which time Mary and Imlay had broken up. Mary was distraught and attempted suicide on two occasions.

Despite this, she soon took up with William Godwin and their relationship was a passionate one and resulted in the birth of another daughter, Mary, on 30 August 1797. Unfortunately Mary Wollstonecraft took ill following complications with the birth and died eleven days later. Godwin took it upon himself to bring up both children, infusing them with a love of culture and literature and young Mary became a writer herself, generating a considerable output and through her literary connections met and fell in love with Percy Shelley; they married in 1816. That year, they went on a trip to Geneva with Shelley’s friend Lord Byron, and owing to inclement weather, spent many a night inventing ghost stories to while away the time. Mary was frequently asked if she had thought of any, and thinking that science was already disproving the existence of ghosts, came up with the idea of a reanimated corpse:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world…”

What was intended to be a short story became a full-blown novel, published in 1818 as Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus.