Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Extract from Gordon Burn, Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son: The story of the Yorkshire Ripper:

'In these models you will see the the awful results of men leading immoral lives before marriage,' a sign announces at the centre of a room whose walls are crowded with heavy glass-fronted cases of the kind usually associated with the Victorian taxidermist's art. Here, though, each case is an essay in the terrible frailty of human flesh, rather than a sentimental composition of brightly feathered songbirds or frollicking kittens: the chancred lips of a vagina ooze and fester beneath a grey cloud of pubic hair, which itself is surrounded by male sexual organs in varying degrees of rottenness and putrefaction, like half-eaten sausages, decorously framed in muslin. Four babies' faces are obliterated by the sort of green scabs and horrible running sores that are an insistent theme, filling the room with images of feculence and pus. A hand is thrust deep into a womb, its fingers closed around a deformed foetus. Diseased scrotums are shown in cross-section then billow and burst...
The centrepiece of this battered collection, however, is the bust of a woman, 'an allegorical sculpture in wax', originally inspired by one of the numerous pieces of religious statuary representing the Virgin suckling the infant Jesus. The head is inclined sweetly and enclosed in a muslin 'wimple', and the first and second fingers of the right hand gently offer the left nipple. The nipple, though, is discoloured and heavily encrusted and the bare, waxen white breasts are covered in burning venereal sores and hives.
To this piece, as to all the others, is affixed a faded card on which a homily has been penned in a fussy, Gothic script. 'Vice is a monster of so hideous a mien/That to be hated needs but to be seen' it says on the case illustrating 'French pox in the female'. 'Wise men see the evil and avoid it/But fools pass on and are punished', it says above the four mutilated children's heads. 'His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself. And he shall be holden with the cords of his sins', it says above the rotting penises. 'To thoughtless husbands, this case well deserves their attention. For how many are there who are good husbands and good fathers yet when in their cups fall into temptation and contract a complaint which destroys the happiness of the family' is the inscription pinned to the bust of the 'Madonna'.

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