Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Final Cut: Sir. William Gull

1888: A Jack The Ripper Novel is available to buy from Amazon now

A lot of things can happen between the inception of a book and its final version. For this blog entry, I wanted to talk about one of the characters and story threads that didn't make it into the final edition of 1888 and the reasons why he was omitted.

Sir. William Gull in 1881
The plotting of my novel had to be meticulously calculated before I even typed my first word of it, and as such, every single character and their story line was carefully choreographed to fit in both with the lives of the other characters and the true events which occurred at the time. Occasionally, these timings worked beautifully; Gina and Kosminski's discovery of the torso in the grounds of Scotland Yard was one such instance. Others were patently ridiculous (Edward and Toby managing to be at the scene of two murders and the Goulston Street graffito all on the same night had to be axed.)

One character who regrettably never found a final home was that of Sir. William Gull, chief surgeon and confidante to Queen Victoria (who was also erased from the pages. Sorry ma'am!)

Many of the characters of my novel were real people who had been accused of being the Ripper in works of fiction and non-fiction and there was something delightful about bringing so many of them together into one grand tale. More than almost any other others, I was keen to feature Gull, not simply for sensationalism, but because I genuinely wanted to do my best to restore his name.

Gull was a fascinating man. He was born to a family of somewhat slender means, who could not possibly have envisioned the dizzy heights his ascent of the social ladder would take him to. After an early interest in botany and help from the fostering attention of a local rector, the young Gull pursued a career in medical science.

By 21 he was working in Guy's Hospital, under the patronage of its treasurer and from there, successfully rose through the ranks of both the hospital and formal education, eventually earning his MD at the age of 29 - a near impossible feat for a man born the son of a wharf keeper.

After treating the heir apparent, Albert Edward (Edward VII) for typhoid fever, his mother, Queen Victoria appointed Gull as her personal surgeon in 1871, a role he would play until his death in 1890.

This in itself is a fascinating story, but how he came to be named as a Jack the Ripper suspect is as bizarre as it is ludicrous, and was popularised from a nasty little book of lies and naive assumptions entitled Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.

These assertions were groundless, vicious and entirely based upon the second hand testimony of a man who told the tale without a shred of evidence to support it (and would later renounce.) Moreover, this man had actually created such a fanciful web of lies that by the time his story was completed, it was revealed that he was the true monarch of 1970's Britain.

The real shame here is that Sir. William Gull was a great man. To thrive in an age where class meant everything is one thing, to make it all the way to the tallest tower of the establishment is quite another; but in doing so, Gull became a revolutionary in thought. He was a fearless and tireless advocate for the education of women and fought for their right to practice medicine alongside men in an age when to do so, was not so far removed from asking for equal education for animals.

He was the first person to identify anorexia nervosa and suggest means to treat it (most of which are still in use today.) In fact, much of his storyline involved his attempts to rescue a young woman who was starving herself to death.

He's someone who should be remembered as a decent gentlemen in an age when men of privilege were afraid to speak up. Unfortunately, if people have heard of him at all, most of the time it is thanks to films and books that depict him as the Ripper (at the age of 71, no less, after having suffered a stroke.)

Bilbo Baggins as Sir. William
In my book, his story strand involved his friendship with the Queen and their improbably jaunts through Whitechapel as Victoria served as a a dark tourist of the murders, and an echo to the character of Annie Chapman (both women were widows, struggling with their grief in impossibly different circumstances.)

Victoria is amused
Later he was to meet and befriend Gina, but by this time, his story had become so cut off from the other characters, and his position as the gentlemanly social reformer was better fitted to George Lusk - who allowed the story to remain in the East End, that Gull's tale was, regrettably, never even finished.

Along with him went the Queen, who, quite frankly, hadn't been doing much other than hanging around the Albert Memorial while dressed in black and feeling sorry for herself.

It was with great shame that I had to carve a Gull shaped hole in 1888 and in doing so, lost the tale of a good man who history should remember as one of the good guys in a era when such men were few and far between, and should not have to suffer the indignity of his legacy as a killer.

Yours truly,
Charlie Revelle-Smith.

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