The impact of identity in the style and preoccupations of Peter Ackroyd Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

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The impact of identity in the style and preoccupations of Peter Ackroyd Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.





The impact of identity in the style and preoccupations of Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.’

The novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ is one of the greatest literary works by Ackroyd. He delves into his deeper and darker side and comes up with a literary piece that borrows from a number of genres: historical fiction as evidenced by the inclusion of factual historical figures such as Karl Marx; he weaves in mystery throughout his narrative by bringing in the element of elusiveness in regards to the identity of the serial killer terrorizing London residents; there is also an element of folklore brought about by the titled creature, The Limehouse Golem; realistic fiction features in his novel in reference to some of the mentioned murders that actually happened. The impact of identity in the style and preoccupations of Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ accord him the occasion to apply a variety of literary genres into his work through intertextuality.

Ackroyd’s works on ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ feature a number of distinctive literary styles and preoccupations that are visible throughout the book. The prominent and most important feature that this essay investigates is how the aspect of identity has impacted the stylistic devices in Ackroyd’s novel. The term ‘identity’ refers to the behavioral and personal character traits, which help in distinguishing an individual as belonging to a certain specific group of people. The first device that has been considerably affected by the aspect of identity is the plot of the story which is derived from the situational context of the book and its ultimate purpose.

According to Gradu and Hänninen, (1997), the situational context of the novel comprises and dictates the events that ultimately lead to the formation of the plot of the story. Gradu and Hänninen describe the plot of the novel as “A plot that involves an excess of blood and gore: murders of two prostitutes, a mutilation of a Jewish scholar, and slaughters of two entire families on the Ratcliffe Highway of Limehouse, London” (1997). This events described by the two are primarily dependant on the aspect of identity. The perpetrator of the gruesome murders, who is not clearly revealed to the reader at the very beginning of the book, is key in coming up with the events in the plot, based on the aspect of their identity. The macabre plot of the story is impacted heavily by the behavioral and personal characteristics of the serial killer in the novel.

In relation to the plot, the aspect of identity results in far reaching consequences embroiled in the plot, which affects a myriad of characters in the book.Gradu and Hänninen (1997), also point out that the titled character, Dan Leno, as well as the other characters in the novel who are questioned by the police during the investigation of John Cree’s murder, each have a distinct character identity. Each of these different characters also plays a major role in tailoring the final outcome and string of events which unfold in the book. Thus allowing application of different literary genre styles such as tragedy and mystery.

Another style feature in the Ackroyd’s novel that has been considerably affected by the aspect of identity is that of mood and tone of the story. Miller adds that other elements such as the setting and the period in which the novel is set have helped in proliferating this dark and somber mood and tone employed by Ackroyd in the different styles of narrations (1994). He describes the deplorable conditions of the London streets at the time and employs explicitly clear descriptive techniques. He describes the different smells; the poorly lit and dark narrow alleys in London where some of the ghastly events take place (Miller 1994). While all these other aspects provide an enhanced image of the setting to the readers, the aspect of identity upon further scrutiny also majorly influences the element of realistic fiction in the novel.

Hooti and Tahmasbi (2012), point out that mood and tone of Ackroyd’s novel is set upon the identity of the different characters involved in the events taking place. The author effectively describes the different characters living within the city of London. He mentions the famous and infamous London residents, the commercial sex workers and even the homosexuals living at that particular period. This differentiation of the different identities of each of his novels’ characters aids in setting the mood and tone of the narrative and exemplify how great of an influence the aspect of identity is in the narrative in bringing out historical facts according to Hooti and Tahmasbi (2012).

Aside from the literary style, the author preoccupies himself with some specific issues all through the book. In a similar fashion, the aspect of identity has had a great bearing on these issues in a literary sense as well as addressing the same issues figuratively. Among some of the key preoccupations Ackroyd features in the novel, the ones that especially stand out most are; the question of intertextuality and that of literary history (Gradu and Hänninen 1997).

Intertextuality is evidenced in the literary works of Ackroyd, according to Catana (2008), at the very beginning without even going into the book itself. The identity of the titled character Dan Leno, she states, alludes to the possible connection between Adam Kadmon – also known as the Universal Man – and the androgyny symbol which the author relates the Dan Leno. Similarly, the other titled character, Limehouse Golem, is an actual significant and historical part of London’s history Onegaadds (2008).

This fact is evidenced in Ackroyd’s novel when the narrator of the book speaks of the infamous Limehouse Golem in the past tense. He asks: “Who now remembers the story of the Limehouse Golem, or cares to be reminded of the history of that mythical creature? The secret of how it came to be revived in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and how it aroused the same anxieties and horrors as its medieval counterpart, is to be found within the annals of London’s past” (p. 4). Similarly, Wolfreys and Ackroyd point out the involvement and mention of the other famous historical literary identities of Karl Marx and George Gissing and their familiarity with De Quincey’s essays bringing out the preoccupation with intertextuality while writing the narrative (2000).

In all the above-mentioned instances where intertextuality is evidenced, the influence of the aspect of identity on the literary work is clearly brought out by the allusion to these other characters that are borrowed from other different texts and contexts and then finally brought together in Ackroyd’s work. It is therefore safe to say Ackroyd blends the element of identity and intertextuality to apply a variety of literary genres to this particular piece.


Ackroyd, P. (1997). Dan Leno & Limehouse Golem. Vintage Books.

Catană, S. E. (2008). The Intertextual self: Writing the self in Peter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

Gradu, P., & Hänninen, U. (1997).Rewriting Literary History: Peter Ackroyd and Intertextuality.

Hooti, N., &Tahmasbi, Z. (2012).Peter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem: A Lyotardian Study.

Miller, L. (1994).BBOK REVIEW / Pea soupers and the smell of Babbage: ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ – Peter Ackroyd: Sinclair Stevenson, 14.99

Onega, S. (1999). Metafiction and Myth in the Novels of Peter Ackroyd. Columbia: Camden House

Wolfreys, J. &Ackroyd, P. (2000).The Ludic and Labyrinthine Text.Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

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