This book is not about Jack the Ripper, who has already gained a lot of notoriety. This book is about the lives of his victims. Their names were Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane.
I felt overwhelming sadness while reading it, and this was due to the deplorable conditions in which these women lived. There was clearly a great deal of research behind this book.
It was heart-wrenching and enraging to learn that just over a century ago, women were considered less important than men and that their only acceptable roles were limited to marrying, having children, and taking care of the household.
On their birth certificate, under “occupation or profession”, there was written stuff like “wife of…”, “widow of …” . If you were a woman and poor, then you were labelled as a prostitute, an outcast, and could also easily be treated as a “human parcel”.
All of this made me think an awful lot about how much has thankfully changed for women since then, though there is still much progress to be made.
I loved the considerations developed by the author, especially in the last paragraph “just prostitutes”; I think they give back a bit of dignity to these women.
Overall, I liked this book, but it was a challenging read for me as I found its content emotionally intense and requiring time to process. I’m definitely left with a lot to reflect on.
Readers interested in the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper and, in general, in the social conditions of the women during Victorian London.
Title: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Year First Published: 2019
Content Warnings: Murder, Alcoholism, Domestic abuse, Misogyny, Sexism, Sexual Violence, Child Death.
Winner for Best History & Biography (2019)
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.