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From: Peter Stephenson <pws@ibmth.df.unipi.it>
Subject: Re: (urth) de Sade, Plato, and Jack the Ripper.....
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 13:49:23 +0200

"Jonathan Laidlow" wrote:
> 'With its references to DeSade, Plato and Jack the Ripper, this  is a 
> fully realized culture, utterly strange and utterly believeable, as 
> might be expected from the author of 'The Fifth Head of Cerberus''
> - - Algys Budrys, review of 'Shadow of the Torturer', The Magazine of 
> Fantasy and Science Fiction vol.58 no. 5 May 1980.
> As I became bored of de Sade (!), am ignorant of Plato, and just 
> plain confused by Ripperology, where are these references? Wouldn't 
> it be fun if we teased them out?

Yes, it would, although maybe he's just saying Wolfe refers to anything and
everything and has picked some extreme examples, like Polonius ends his
list of things the players in Hamlet can perform with `scene individable
and poem unlimited', whatever that means.  But it's fun to make dodgy
hypotheses based on tenuous connections.

Plato, I suppose, means the ideal republic of the Republic, with its
philosopher ruler, which isn't so far off what the autarch is (in practice,
I mean, when we actually meet him --- pedants will want to wreck this by
noting that we don't in Shadow, apart from an appearance in the House Azure
which isn't explained till later).  You could probably make an argument
that the New Sun was the Form of the Good, but that would be a bit vague
even for my taste.  Nor does it seem particularly outr'e to suggest the
Commonwealth is less than ideal.  Was he thinking of cave dwellers, looking
at the world in shadow?  Or (I may well be doing Budrys a disservice) does
Plato mean `some Greek guy with old-fashioned ideas about society'?

As for the others --- neither aristocratic debauchery and perversion, nor
the systematic murder of prostitutes are major themes in Wolfe, although I
hesitate in case anyone has a piece of fan fiction ready.  Here's my guess:
both de Sade and Jack the Ripper are generic references to a decadent (in
Wolfe's case `decayed' would seem more appropriate) world of aristocratic
(i.e. exultant) vice --- we already know in `Shadow', for example, that
Thecla and her relatives are concubines.

There was a 1979 film, `Murder by Decree', in which Jack the Ripper turned
out to be the Duke of Clarence, mad son of Victoria and Albert (there, I've
spoilt it for you, sorry); the case was investigated by Sherlock Holmes
(Christopher Plummer) and Dr Watson (James Mason).  They managed to cram
the freemasons, and even werewolves if the quote below is anything to go by
(though I can't remember that bit), into the story, too.  `Oliver Stone
would love this plot' is a comment in the IMDB review (see
http://us.imdb.com/Title?0079592).  Coming a year or so before Shadow of
the Torturer, with a strange city (they always do that to Victorian London,
but I suppose Dickens got there first), and a proto-Wolfean mixing of
themes, it might have been enough to suggest to Budrys that `Shadow' had
Jack-the-Ripper connotations.

  Holmes: We've unmasked madmen, Watson, wielding sceptres. Reason run
                 riot. Justice howling at the moon.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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