Oscar Wilde spotted on Warren Street
London beyond time and place Blog,London The Playwright and the Killer: The Connection between the Jack the Ripper Murders and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The Playwright and the Killer: The Connection between the Jack the Ripper Murders and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”The Playwright and the Killer: The Connection between the Jack the Ripper Murders and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Oscar Wilde spotted on Warren Street

Appeared originally in Ripperologist no. 144/June 2015

Additional bonus material to chapter 3.2 of my book London and its genius loci – a journey beyond time and place

In a post in the Jack the Ripper Casebook forum dated 18 February 2008 someone going by the username Serena stated that she had heard ‘that there was an alleged connection between Jack and Oscar Wilde and that Wilde knew his identity and mentioned who he was in Dorian Gray’. Serena then asked: ‘Unless I am missing something, can anyone shed light on whether this is true or total fantasy?’[1]

There are many rumours in Ripper literature and the Internet about this question. But, is there really some sort of connection between Jack the Ripper and Oscar Wilde? Did Wilde know who the Ripper was? Did he hint at the Ripper’s identity in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray? Was Wilde himself the Ripper?

In an effort to bring this discussion closer to a conclusion, I will try to discuss all the existing connections between Oscar Wilde and the Jack the Ripper murders, with particular reference to Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am aware that this article is unlikely to bring all speculation to an end, but it might be helpful for those who want to know whether there is any truth about these theories. I do not intend to spin my own theory about the murders, but will limit myself to presenting, as far as possible, all the facts concerning their connection with Wilde’s novel. Anyone who wishes to formulate a new conspiracy theory on that basis should feel free to do so.

The books and articles I used for this article can be found at the end.

Buy “The Picture of Dorian Gray” here: The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classics)*

Buy “Jack the Ripper: The Facts” here: Jack The Ripper: The Facts*

Buy “Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard Investigates” here: Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates (English Edition)*

Order my new German book “Jack the Ripper – Die Whitechapel-Morde 1888: Eine Chronologie” here:

Stephen Knight’s “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution”

In a bestselling book called Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, published in London in 1976, the journalist Stephen Knight proposed the theory that a British government conspiracy was responsible for the murders. Knight was in contact with a man named Joseph Gorman, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the artist Walter Sickert. [4] Gorman told Knight a farcical story in which Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, also known as Prince Eddy, fell in love with a young woman named Annie Crook and married her in a secret ceremony. A baby was soon born of their union. Of course, the Establishment learned of the marriage and was horrified, partly because Annie Crook was a commoner and partly because she was a Catholic. The lovers were forcibly separated and Annie was committed to an asylum. Mary Kelly, who witnessed the marriage, had been taking care of the baby. She fled to the East End, where she told her story to a group of friends, who urged her to blackmail the government.

From this point on, virtually every important personage of that era becomes part of the story, which recounts how Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, turned to Freemason friends who enlisted the assistance of the Queen’s physician, Sir William Gull, in silencing the women. Gull planned their murders according to Masonic ritual and accomplished his fiendish task with the help of the coachman John Netley.

When Knight’s book was released, everybody loved his theory. Yet, one year later, Joseph Sickert told The Sunday Times that he had made up the story, with the exception of the parts about his being descended from both Royalty and Walter Sickert. In subsequent years Joseph Sickert continued to expand on his story, which was the subject of another book, The Ripper and the Royals, by Melvyn Fairclough (Duckworth, London, 1991). Knight died in 1985 and nowadays his theory is considered as little worth of credit. But it inspired a superior graphic novel and an entertaining, if undistinguished film.

Alan Moore’s and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell”

In 1988, Alan Moore, the author of such graphic novels as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, was thinking about ‘writing something lengthy on a murder’ and contacted the artist Eddie Campbell to work with him in a new graphic novel. They decided to use the conspiracy theory popularized by Stephen Knight.

Moore ‘slavishly poured through an incredible amount of Ripper literature including biographies of major (and minor) characters and non-fiction accounts of Victorian living conditions as well as historical and mystical matters’ thus creating the brilliantly researched From Hell graphic novel, widely considered as ‘the best graphic (or fictional) treatment of the Ripper case ever produced.’ It was first published in 1989 as a series in a newspaper. In 2001 a film of From Hell starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham followed. The film, however, left out much of the novel’s symbolism and depth and focused only on the main elements of the story.

Oscar Wilde

A well-known character in the London scene at the time of the Ripper murders was Oscar Wilde. He was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin on 16 October 1854. His father, William Wilde, was a prominent surgeon specializing on the eye and ear. His mother, Jane Elgee Wilde, who called herself ‘Speranza’, was an Irish nationalist poetess. Wilde was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he remained for three years, and in 1874 he went to Magdalen College at Oxford for four more years. At Magdalen he was ‘touching life at as many points as possible’, as his biographer Hesketh Pearson puts it [5]; Wilde hosted gatherings with other students where alcohol and tobacco were consumed, was popular with women and discovered his love for poetry. In 1878 he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry. During the following years he worked as a journalist and made a lecture tour through the United States. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd. During the next decade he wrote several greatly successful satirical plays, including Lady Wintermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance (both 1892), An Ideal Husband (1893), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Slightly less successful were his collections of short stories and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

In June 1891 Wilde met a young man who had expressed great admiration for The Picture of Dorian Gray: Lord Alfred Douglas. Soon Wilde and Douglas entered into an intimate relationship, thus causing a conflict with Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Queensberry harassed Wilde and Douglas and publicly referred to Wilde as a sodomite. Wilde ill-advisedly sued Queensberry for libel. As is known, a lawsuit for libel will not prosper if the allegations are proved to be true.

During Queensberry’s trial, evidence came to surface that Wilde was indeed involved in activities within the purview of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, which proscribed ‘any act of gross indecency committed by a male person with another male person, whether in public or in private.’ Wilde was brought to trial for gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour, the maximum penalty provided by the law. He was released from prison in 1897 and left Britain. His experience in prison led him to write The Ballad of Reading Goal, which was published in February 1898. Oscar Wilde died in poverty and disgrace in Paris on 30 November 1900.

Wilde was a prominent member of a movement known as the ‘New Aestheticism’. He was of the opinion that in art and writing ‘artistic freedom and full expression of personality were possible, along with a curious brand of individualistic sympathy or narcissistic socialism’ and to that ‘he added another feature of aestheticism, the invasion of forbidden areas of thought and behaviour’ [6] Wilde took this attitude in his works and his lifestyle and, in the end, it turned against him. During and after his trials, Wilde ‘represented the useless, lawless, effeminate, and sexually debauched upper class; he represented an elite and effete form of art, and an atheistic and anarchistic aesthetic; finally, and tragically, he represented the abuse of privilege and the misuse of talent’ [7]

Tite Street in London, where Oscar Wilde lived
Tite Street in London, where Oscar Wilde lived

“The Picture Of Dorian Gray”

The Picture of Dorian Gray was published on 20 June 1890 in the July issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Its protagonist is Dorian Gray, a young man whose portrait is painted by the artist Basil Hallward. The finished picture ‘is a thing of beauty, a true labor of love, art most magical, capturing Dorian as a perfect specimen, a divine being’ [8] upon which ‘Dorian offers a Faustian pact (with no visible devil) that he will exchange places with his portrait, to preserve himself as a work of art’. [9] In the ensuing years ‘Dorian progresses, or regresses, to art and back to life’ and ‘is always young while the portrait, locked away in his old schoolroom, exhibits the ravages of each fresh iniquity, and endures all the horrors of the natural ageing process’ [10]. Apart from Basil Hallward, there is the loquacious Lord Henry Wotton, who, in Richard Ellmann’s words, ‘is fishing for Dorian’s soul’. Although it does not contain explicit scenes, The Picture of Dorian Gray ‘is one of the first attempts to bring homosexuality into the English novel’. [11]

Dorian falls in love with the actress Sybil Vane, but their love turns unhappy, and she commits suicide. Dorian is pursued by her brother James, who tries to kill him, but instead gets killed himself. In the meantime, Basil Hallward discovers the secret of the portrait, so Dorian decides that Basil too has to die and kills him. The friend who helps Dorian to dispose of Basil’s body commits suicide. Now Dorian is almost all alone and tries to obliterate his feelings in an opium den. In the end he tries to destroy the picture, which has turned old and ugly, and ‘by unintentional suicide, Dorian becomes aestheticism’s first martyr’. [12]

Is there a connection between the Jack the Ripper murders and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”?

No one knows exactly when the rumours started, but ‘some writers have suggested that Wilde may have also known more than he let on about the Whitechapel murders’ [13] and that this knowledge influenced Dorian Gray. For example, the murder of Basil Hallward was said to be a reference to the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. In the novel, after Sybil Vane’s death, Dorian Gray ‘had been seen brawling with foreign sailors in a low den in the distant parts of Whitechapel and that he consorted with thieves and coiners and knew the mysteries of their trade’. Wilde writes about Dorian that ‘where he went to he hardly knew’ and that ‘he remembered wandering through dimly lit-streets, past gaunt black-shadowed archways and evil-looking houses’, where ‘women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called after him’ and ‘drunkards had reeled by cursing, and chattering to themselves like monstrous apes’. Are these references to the Ripper, who like Dorian wandered the streets of Whitechapel, out of control and without memory of his deeds? Is Dorian based upon the Ripper in these scenes?

The peak of these rumours was reached in 2008, when Thomas Toughill proposed Wilde’s former friend and flatmate, the portrait painter Frank Miles, as a candidate for Jack-hood in his book The Ripper Code. Frank Miles had been first mentioned as Toughill’s suspect by Colin Wilson in his introduction to Donald Rumbelow’s The Complete Jack the Ripper (W H Allen, London, 1975). Miles and Wilde lived together first in Salisbury Street and later in Tite Street, where they held social gatherings and were friends with the Prince of Wales. Although it has never been officially proved, it is likely that Wilde and Miles had a homosexual relationship. Just as it later happened with Alfred Douglas’s father, Wilde had roused the indignation of Frank Miles’ father, who tried to separate the two. Wilde was outraged and said to Miles ‘I will leave you. I will go now and I will never speak to you again as long as I live’ [14], a sentence that was repeated almost exactly in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Dorian says to Basil Hallward, ‘On my word of honour I will never speak to you again as long as I live.’ In 1887, Frank Miles was taken to Brislington asylum near Bristol where he died four years later.

In his introduction to the 1985 Penguin Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Peter Ackroyd finds it possible that Miles is ‘represented in Dorian Gray …by Basil Hallward’. It is not known whether Miles really was a model for Basil Hallward, but it can certainly be said that Wilde portraits ‘himself as a talker in the character of Lord Henry Wotton’. [15] Wilde said that ‘Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be in other ages, perhaps’. [16]

Both Miles and Wilde appear in the chapter about Montague John Druitt in Alan Moore’s From Hell. In 1894, Chief Constable Melville Macnaghten first referred to Druitt as a likely suspect for the Whitechapel murders. In an internal memorandum on the case, Macnaghten wrote that Druitt was

‘said to be a doctor and of good family, who disappeared at the time of the Miller’s Court murder, and whose body…was found in the Thames on 31st. Dec. – or about 7 weeks after that murder. He was sexually insane and from private info. I have little doubt but that his own family believed him to have been the murderer.’

As Begg remarks, it is ‘difficult to believe that Druitt was Jack the Ripper’. Begg also points out that ‘almost everything [Macnaghten] has to say about Druitt is wrong’ and wonders ‘when and why did suspicion ever fall on Druitt? and why was Macnaghten inclined to favour Druitt above any other suspect?’ [17] Stephen Knight uses Druitt as a ‘scapegoat’ in his theory and thinks that ‘Sir Melville Macnaghten, an instrument of the Freemasons’ was accusing the deceased, so that suspicions against the Freemasons, Prince Eddy, Dr Gull and everyone else involved with this illustrious company would stop. Knight even suggests that Druitt did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

Moore takes up this whole idea in From Hell. The artist Frank Miles meets Druitt on the street and invites him to a party in Tite Street, where he and Wilde had really lived. Druitt’s brother was in the same regiment as Miles – and Miles’s brother was Prince Eddy’s equerry. This gave Stephen Knight the idea of Miles as a ‘link between Druitt and Eddy.’ Miles tells Druitt that he resides in the asylum in Bristol, but is allowed to attend the party and then must leave with his overseer from the hospital. In the Appendix to From Hell Alan Moore clarifies that this meeting is fictional.

The reader follows the young Montague John Druitt, who is to become the scapegoat for the culprits, to the party. Wilde himself opens the door and as Druitt asks if he is ‘Oscar Wilde, the WRITER?’ Wilde replies ‘Oh good heavens, no! AWFUL fellow. Wouldn’t give him house-room. No, I’m Oscar Wilde, the florist’. He then introduces Druitt to ‘Mr. Walter Sickert, the TURF ACCOUNTANT’ and to ‘Mr. James McNeil Whistler, who I believe keeps a tripe stall in Mile End’. Both of them were, of course, artists, with whom Wilde was in contact. Whistler was a friend of Wilde and also lived in Tite Street, and therefore was a neighbour of Wilde and Miles. Wilde later admitted that the murdered painter in The Picture of Dorian Gray was ‘in the original draft…clearly and libellously Whistler’, but ‘for fear of a libel action, the image of Whistler was removed from the text’ [18]. As Druitt replies that he is a teacher, Wilde answers that ‘it’s tragic how many young Englishmen there are who start life with perfect profiles and end up adopting some useful profession’. When asked about the Ripper murders by Whistler he says ‘It isn’t my East End, James. And anyway, no crime is vulgar…although all vulgarity is of course a crime.’ He continues, ‘Now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen…’. With those words his appearance in From Hell is over. One should note that Moore quite nicely adopted Wilde’s wit and form of speaking.

At the party, Druitt meets Melville Macnaghten, who lived across the road at No. 9 Tite Street, and would be ‘responsible for connecting Druitt’s name with the Ripper case’ [19]. Knight points out that at Wilde’s parties, ‘Sickert, Eddy’s father [the Prince of Wales] and Miles were among the regular guests.’ Although it is not known that Macnaghten or Druitt ever attended one of Wilde’s parties, Moore creates this meeting to connect all the characters which Knight mentions in his theory about Druitt becoming the scapegoat for the murders.

Homosexuality, whether it relates to Druitt (the term ‘sexually insane’ in Macnaghten’s memorandum might convey that idea), Wilde, Miles or Prince Eddy, plays an important role in Knight’s theory. It also contains references to the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889, a case requiring a tactful investigation because it involved a male brothel used by many upper class young men. The investigation was led by Inspector Frederick Abberline, who was also responsible for the inquiries into the Jack the Ripper case and became famous when he was portrayed in film by Michael Caine, Johnny Depp and Hugo Weaving. For us it is only important to know that Prince Albert Victor was a recurring costumer at the Cleveland Street brothel and that Lord Arthur Somerset was ‘another politically tricky costumer and prominent aristocrat’ involved in the case. [20]

Michael S Foldy places the Cleveland Street scandal ‘in a long line of (mostly) sex-related scandals involving important persons that gripped the public imagination in the eighteen-eighties and eighteen-nineties’.[21] This series of scandals culminated with Oscar Wilde’s trials for gross indecency. A reviewer of The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 wrote that Wilde ‘can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys’, a reference to the Cleveland Street Scandal. It was obvious that Wilde’s novel was used against him in his trials.

Homosexuality, or indeed any kind of sexual orientation besides heterosexuality, was forbidden in England under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, pursuant to which Wilde was tried and condemned. According to Ellmann, Wilde himself ‘was firmly homosexual’, and his novel was full of hints at what he calls ‘uncelebrated forms of love’. The Picture of Dorian Gray deals with ‘sin and corruption’ and ‘vice and crime, the whole of which was underlain by a sub-text which suggested (but did not explicitly articulate) homoerotic longings and activities’ through which it created ‘a heated public debate on art and mortality’ [22].

Another tenuous but noteworthy connection between the Ripper murders and Dorian Gray is Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a possible source for Wilde’s novel, as it deals with a similar topic [23]. Stevenson was definitely one of the authors Wilde favoured [24]. He is also mentioned in Alan Moore’s From Hell, where Dr Gull, who in his dying process echoes through time and space, appears in Stevenson’s dream and inspires him to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Stevenson really had a ‘nightmare that would lead to the creation of his most disturbing work’ in 1886, as Moore recalls. Two years later, when the story ‘would be on the West End stage as a theatrical production…the Whitechapel murders burst upon the public consciousness.’ It is interesting that

‘its leading actor, an American named Richard Mansfield, found himself facing criticism to the effect that his vivid and histrionic portrayal from Jekyll to Hyde was an encouragement to violence and murder, suffering from a drop in audiences as a result. The suggestion that at one time Mansfield was considered as a suspect by people unable to believe that so convincing a portrayal of evil could depend entirely upon acting ability is at its best unfounded, but the juxtaposition of Edward Hyde and the Whitechapel Killer in terms of timing of their London debuts remains a resonant one.’

Karina Wilson writes that ‘Stevenson could not have known how soon his speculative fiction would be echoed in headline fact.’ [25] She also sees parallels between the two stories and connects them both with the Ripper case, but points out that ‘Stevenson wrote his book before London was shocked to its core by the Jack The Ripper murders, while Wilde’s came after the city had accepted the monster walking in its midst.’ According to her, Stevenson’s story as well as the murders might have influenced Wilde when he wrote Dorian Gray.

The plot of Dorian Gray itself holds some other similarities to the Ripper murders. Together with his aunt, Dorian visits clubs in Whitechapel which were established to ‘better’ the poorest inhabitants of Whitechapel. Robert Mighall writes that ‘Whitechapel was especially notorious following the brutal crimes of the Whitechapel murderer, or Jack the Ripper as he came to be known, in 1888.’ [26] Whitechapel appears more than once in the novel, often representing Dorian in his darkest hours, in a confused and depressed state of mind. In chapter XI it is mentioned that Dorian sometimes visits ‘dreadful places near Blue Gate Fields’, south of Whitechapel and known for its opium dens. Mighall notes that Wilde only had ‘but a vague knowledge of this side of the capital.’

Dorian’s birthday, as mentioned in chapter XII, is the ninth of November, the same date on which the last Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was murdered. This is also the date of Dorian’s murder of Basil Hallward which some have described as a fictional reproduction of the Kelly murder. In chapter XVI Dorian drives into the East End to visit one of the opium dens. Wilde associates ‘poverty, opium and a baffling topography’ [27] with this area. In the movie version of From Hell Johnny Depp portrayed Inspector Abberline as a drug-addicted psychic who visits opium dens regularly. Wilde himself smoked ‘opium-tainted Egyptian cigarettes’. [28]

Are there any more connections? Knight asks ‘Can there be any doubt that the Ripper murders, the subsequent cover-up, and also the cover-up surrounding the Cleveland Street brothel case were carried out by a band of extremist Freemasons?’ Wilde himself had become a Freemason In 1876.

Detective Chief Inspector John Littlechild, a member of the Metropolitan Police at the time of the Whitechapel murders, was engaged to gather evidence against Wilde by the Marquess of Queensberry. He ‘found a list of boys with whom Wilde consorted and who were pressured into testifying against him’ [29]. Wilde also appears in Night of the Ripper, a novel by the American writer Robert Bloch (most famous for Psycho, made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock), in which the Ripper, the victims, the suspects, the witnesses and the police appear alongside ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and the Elephant Man’ [30]. But not even a fictional Abberline suspects Wilde of any connection with the Ripper.

Conan Doyle and Wilde met at a dinner hosted by the American publisher J M Stoddart, the owner of Lipincott’s Monthly Magazine, in September 1889. As a result of this dinner, Doyle wrote The Sign of Four for Lipincott’s, and Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would be connected in many ways to Jack the Ripper in the future, but always and only in fictional ways. Gafford points out that ‘Conan Doyle never addressed the problem of the Ripper in any of his Sherlock Holmes stories (despite many letters asking him to do so)’, but ‘his followers have done it several times’ [31]. One of the most recent adaptations of this combination was the computer game Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper.

George Bernard Shaw said that Wilde and he were treating ‘each other with such formality and regularity that we never got on familiar terms, and our relationship was really endurable for both of us’. [32]

The ‘Elephant Man’ was Joseph Carey Merrick, another famous figure of the late Victorian period. He got the name ‘due to a disfigurement which from the age of two resulted in tumours appearing on his face and body, these later worsened to resemble cauliflower like growths’. [33] Because of his looks he was considered as ‘a possible Ripper suspect’, but ‘because somebody suffers from a disfigurement or disability’ it ‘does not automatically make them a monster.’ This topic is dealt with in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as well as in Dorian Gray. Dorian remains young and handsome, although his actions are monstrous. These actions do not affect his looks, but the looks of his portrait, which reflects his soul. The connection between looks, actions and the soul seems to have been a highly discussed one in the late Victorian period.

Incidentally, the already mentioned Alfred Hitchcock reworked a Ripper story into one of his early films: The Lodger – A Story of the London Fog. The story, in which a lodger in a house turns out to be the Ripper, was already told by Walter Sickert in the 1890s. Sickert, who was part of London’s society in the 1880s and 1890s, at the same time as Wilde, plays an important role in Knight’s conspiracy theory.

Peter Ackroyd, who wrote the introduction to the First Penguin Classics Edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray as well as the pastiche The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, also wrote a novel called Hawksmoor. In real life, Nicholas Hawksmoor was an eighteenth-century architect who built several churches in London. In Ackroyd’s novel, Nicholas Dyer was the architect who built the churches – and delved in Satanism – and Hawksmoor a contemporary policeman investigating a series of murders. Hawksmoor’s churches have been an influence in From Hell [34], where they have a great effect on the murderer Dr Gull. In fact they are at least geographically connected to the Ripper murders. Christ Church, which stands in Commercial Street across from the Ten Bells, where the Ripper victims were said to drink, is close to where the murder sites are located.

Was Wilde the Ripper?

Rumours that Wilde himself might have been the Ripper have also been widespread in the ‘Ripper community’ and the Internet. But there is no reason to believe this. The idea has been summed up nicely by ‘Robert’, a poster at the Jack the Ripper Casebook forum:

‘Undoubtedly, the mystery solved. Wilde approached Eddowes and whispered in her ear, ‘One of us has got to go.’ Wilde decided that Kate, rather than himself, should be that person. Kate of course disagreed, and her dying words were, “I wish I’d said that.”’ [35]

Dorian Gray: The Final Solution

What can we conclude from this examination of the theories concerning Oscar Wilde and the Ripper? There is Wilde’s inclusion in a farcical conspiracy theory. There is Frank Miles as a possible, but very unlikely, suspect, who might just be added to ‘the ridiculous end of the suspect spectrum’, where

‘we find such individuals as Dr Thomas Barnardo, Sir William Whitey Gull, HRH Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward (Eddy), Walter Sickert, Lewis Carroll and the 1889 alleged murder victim James Maybrick’. [36]

Apart from that, Wilde might have been influenced by the murders in some ways when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray. Who wouldn’t? The crimes were everywhere; they were the first ones the press reported at length and all over the world, making ‘Jack the Ripper’ the first universally known serial killer. If at all, the novel is partly autobiographical. Wilde ‘put into the book a negative version of what he had been brooding about for fourteen years and, under a veil, what he had been doing sexually for four’, since ‘Dorian has like Wilde experimented with two forms of sexuality, love of women and of men’. [37]

All possible connections to the Ripper murders are vague. There are many coincidences linking different characters and events, but one can relate all the happenings and figures that surround the Ripper murders to the late Victorian period. What the murders, the art, Dorian Gray, the Cleveland Street Scandal, Wilde’s lifestyle and his trials have in common is simply that they reflect their times; a period which has been described ‘somewhat mistakenly’ as ‘narrow-minded, hypocritical and humourless’. [38]. The high moral principles rigidly enforced during the Victorian era started to fall apart in the 1880s and 1890s, when figures like Jack the Ripper and Wilde became notorious. Both of them, the heartless killer and the passionate aesthete, were transgressors in the eyes of Victorian society and must be punished for their crimes. Wilde was convicted for them while the Ripper (whoever he or she might have been) was lucky enough to escape. But they were both, in their widely different ways, representative of their times. Jack the Ripper became a myth, which in later years captivated the public imagination and saw expression in different theories. Oscar Wilde and his beliefs about art and about life finally found acceptance and respect. The Picture of Dorian Gray fits exactly into this period as well.

Did Wilde know who the Ripper was?

But did Wilde know who the Ripper was? Did he even hint at his identity in his novel? Not at all. Some people might wish he had done it, so they can spread new obscure theories around it, but looking at it matter-of-factly, there is nothing to it. Where does this pressing need to build connections between the Ripper murders and the society of that time come from? Is there really anyone who thinks that the case can be solved that way? Alan Moore describes the fascination for the Ripper murders very nicely:

‘Five murdered paupers, one anonymous assailant. This reality is dwarfed by the vast theme-park we’ve built around it. Truth is, this has never been about the murders, not the killer or his victims. It’s about us. About our minds and how they dance’. [39]

That is what it is all about. No one wants to solve the case. The mystery, the fascination, would be gone and there would be nothing to speculate about. It is not only Jack the Ripper that is fascinating, but also the time, when he could act exactly as he was acting without being caught. This fascination holds until today and seems to grow more as time goes by. One of the most recent recreations of the late Victorian period can be seen in the TV series Ripper Street, which is set one year after the Ripper murders and deals with the police station in Whitechapel, using real life characters as protagonists. In this series there are many connections to persons and events from the 1880s and 1890s. One might wonder when Oscar Wilde will appear as a character. It is not likely to take too long.


[1] Serena: Jack’s identity revealed in the Picture of Dorian Gray?: http://forum.casebook.org/showthread.php?t=2242. Web. 3 March 2015.

[2] Room, Adrian: An A-Z of British Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990.

[3] Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Robson Books, London, 2004.

[4] Walter Sickert would later become a suspect himself in Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed, by the bestselling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell.

[5] Pearson, Hesketh: The Life of Oscar Wilde, 1946.

[6] Ellmann, Richard: Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1987.

[7] Foldy, Michael S: The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Deviance, Morality, and Late-Victorian Society, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997.

[8] Wilson, Karina: LURID: Victorian Psycho – The Picture of Dorian Gray, https://litreactor.com/columns/lurid-the-picture-of-dorian-gray, Web. 02 March 2015.

[9] Ellmann, op. cit.

[10] Wilson, op. cit.

[11] Ellmann, op. cit.

[12] Ellmann, op. cit.

[13] Wilson, op. cit.

[14] Ellmann, op. cit.

[15] Pearson, op. cit.

[16] Ellmann, op. cit.

[17] Begg, op. cit.

[18] Ellmann, op. cit.

[19] Knight, Stephen: The Final Solution, Harrap, London, 1976.

[20] Moore, Alan: Appendix, From hell. Being a Melodrama in Sixteen Parts, Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, 2006.

[21] Foldy, op. cit.

[22] Foldy, op. cit.

[23] Cf. Ellmann, op. cit.

[24] Cf. Pearson, op. cit.

[25] Wilson, op. cit.

[26] Mighall, Robert: Introduction, Wilde, Oscar, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin, London, 2003.

[27] Mighall, loc. cit.

[28] Ellmann, op. cit.

[29] Zinna, Eduardo: Tea, Scandal and the Ripper’s Shadow, Ripperologist No. 52, March 2004.

[30] Zinna, Eduardo: Yours truly, Robert Bloch: Ripperologist No. 20, December 1998.

[31] Gafford, op. cit.

[32] Pearson, op. cit.

[33] Morley, Christopher: Joseph Carey Merrick,
http://www.casebook.org/ripper_media/book_reviews/non-fiction/cjmorley/131.html. Web. 12 March 2015.

[34] Moore, loc. cit.

[35] Robert: Case Solved: it was Oscar Wilde!!: http://forum.casebook.org/showthread.php?t=1402. Web. 4 March 2015.Evans,

[36] Stewart P. and Rumbelow, Donald: Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard Investigates, Sutton, Stroud, 2006.

[37] Ellmann, op. cit.

[38] Room, op. cit.

[39] Moore: loc. cit.


Begg, Paul: Jack the Ripper. The Facts, Robson Books, London, 2004.

Ellmannn, Richard: Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1987.

Evans, Stewart P. and Rumbelow, Donald: Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard Investigates, Sutton, Stroud, 2006.

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