Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
This book had my attention from the second I saw it mentioned on Twitter. I’m a true crime and serial killer buff, and I was disappointed in myself to realise that I’m one of the many who never considered the identities of the victims of a case so old and just assumed that the scant facts that are normally shared in accounts of the Ripper case were true.
Not so much… the first fact that surprised me was that four of the five women were in their fifties at the time of their death.
The book is made up an individual biography for each of the women, starting from a history of their parents and ending at their death and the people left behind. The amount of research involved is astounding and the author has created a compelling account of the women’s lives that blew my mind with the amount of historical information and human interest.
It sets the scene of what London was like in the mid/late 1800s, for different classes and specifically for women. I thought I was reasonably well clued up about the history of women’s rights but apparently not, this book has sparked my interest and makes me want to read more on the subject.
The writing style is heartfelt and makes a huge amount of information easy to process and internalise. It’s given me a whole new perspective on the true crime genre and encouraged me to look more critically at things I read in future and question whether or not the victims are given enough thought and respect.
2 thoughts on “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold”
Great review! I loved this one, it was my favourite book of 2019, and I’m so glad Hallie Rubenhold has been able to give these five women their voices back.
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This is one of the most special books I’ve ever read – among other things, I didn’t realise how much social historians could piece together lives!
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