From Hell Master Edition Volume Five: The Death Of Liz Stride And Kate Eddowes

by Koom Kankesan

The fifth part of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s colourized From Hell consists of Chapter 8 – only one chapter this time, but a lot happens in it. The murders of Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman have created a sensation, made more alarming by the sensational coverage in the press. The two remaining members of their would-be blackmailing crew, Liz Stride and Marie Kelly, meet under a cloud of dread to drink at a pub, still under the assumption that it is the Old Nichol mob carrying out revenge over their arrears regarding unpaid protection money.

Liz Stride is the next victim to go. As with Nichols and Chapman, Moore and Campbell chronicle moments from her life that paint a sympathetic portrait. Living with a man who bears her little kindness, Liz is tossed out after an argument. A series of downward spiral movements finds her in the clutches of William Gull. As before, Gull taints his grapes with laudanum which he offers to Stride. She detects something wrong in the taste and attempts to flee before she is caught by Netley and brought back to the yard where Gull dispatches her life. Because she has cried out, the assailants don’t hang around too long and Gull remarks that “Yes, I remember now… this is the one that I didn’t finish, isn’t it?” The murders bring about a sort of visionary discombobulation in time.

There was not much of Gull (the killing excepted, of course) in the last couple of chapters which focused heavily on Abberline and the working women of Whitechapel. We see a little more of Gull in the current chapter. He meets with Charles Warren of Great Scotland Yard – despite Warren receiving a letter from the Queen asking for a cease to the murders, Gull insists on continuing and furthermore insists that any masonic associates of Warren in the police force inform Gull if they pick up Kelly (whom Gull is having difficulty locating).
This brings us to Kate Eddowes, featured briefly in the last volume. Walter Sickert had approached her in a pub, trying to get in contact with Marie Kelly. Even in that scene, Eddowes was drawn in such a way that she resembled Kelly. We now are witness to scenes from her life as she makes love to her partner, John, goes hop picking with him in Kent, and then returns to London on the mildly drunken hope she can get a reward from the police because of what Sickert told her. It is the disjointed moments in Eddowes’ life that most moved me in this chapter: her fond but futile existence with her lover, her resentment of her distant daughter, the drunken moments that make her wistful, surly, failing to make her plans achieve fruition. One event leads to another and she lands in jail for the night where she is mistaken for…you guessed it, Marie Kelley.

The killing of Eddowes is particularly savage. Lots of blood is spilled on the street. Gull cannot contain himself, leaping out of the cab and slicing her down. It embarrasses me to discuss the violence in these panels – what happens at the end is that Gull is transported briefly, about a hundred years into the future, where he witnesses a skyscraper rising up before him in Mitre Square. Gull is transported physically as well as mentally because Netley cannot see him for a few moments. Gull seems to be aware that his masonic rituals transport him through space and time because he becomes despondent and admits to Netley: “With more effort, I believe I might go further… To come so far along a path and then turn back while having scarcely glimpsed your DESTINATION.” He laments that they have finished, that there isn’t one more victim to take him further – this is foreshadowing of course because there is still a murder to come – the bloodiest of them all: Marie Kelly.

There is some fine work done with Kelly’s character in this chapter. Her relationship with her live-in lover (another parallel with Kate Eddowes, I suppose), Joe Barnett, is established. They have some nice playful lines which begin the chapter as Kelly gets up and dresses to go to work in the streets and in typical Moore-ish symmetrical fashion, the chapter ends with her coming home and Joe breaking the news about Eddowes’ (mistaken for Kelly’s) death. In between, she commiserates with Liz over a drink, runs into Abberline again and has a nice intimate moment with him. He gives her a couple of pounds to pay the Old Nichol mob which she presently does, only to realize that it’s not the mob who’s been carrying out the killings after all. The anxiety in her life is slowly building to a frenzy.

We also get a few scenes that peek into Abberline’s life, both at home and work, and even get a glimpse of a very despondent Netley, gazing at Victorian porn and drinking and masturbating himself into a stupor, before tidying himself and putting on his hat and coat to go pick up Gull. Netley seems aghast at what Gull does yet goes along which begs the question as to why he’s complicit? For the sake of a reward? Because it’s in human nature to obey authority? These reasons, neither alone or in combination, seem quite strong enough to account for the actions that form the main throughline of this work.

Writing about it so many years after having read it for the first time is having an equally complex effect upon me. On the one hand, its brilliance and impact are as undiminished as ever. When I said in the first post that this is my favourite graphic novel, I didn’t mean that lightly. Having the work on my mind has pushed me to spend the money to finally purchase a page from the original project. These original pages are not cheap (for me) and I had to wait until I could find one that was not as expensive as the others (once again, not an easy task) but it was still, inevitably, quite expensive.

I’m very happy with the page – it’s from the previous chapter where we see snippets of Annie Chapman’s life before Gull dispatches her – and I tried to figure out why this particular page was not as expensive as the others. Perhaps it is because neither Gull nor Abberline are on it. Perhaps it is because Chapman is the least popular of the victims. Perhaps it is because there are no Hawksmoor churches or hansom cabs or Royals involved. Who knows? A friend of mine speculated that it is the pages where Gull slashes the women that go for the biggest bucks. That is horrible to contemplate. That the sensation and violence, not the storytelling, is what sparks the greatest popularity, all these years later. That the vivisection, the cruelty, the sheer horror of it all, is what sells. But my page is a little sensational in its own way too. So does that make me also complicit? Make me a little mixed up in all this business and its popularity? I suppose it does.

I cannot say anything to defend myself. The book was on much firmer footing in the earlier chapters – the history and poetry and mysticism were unassailable. Now we are moving through the murders and everything seems murkier, shiftier, all the characters are both equally sympathetic and detached. I am feeling this too. That sympathetic and detached feeling. For once, I have nothing I can say.

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