Title: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction, True Crime
Rating: Book Club It
Disclaimer: Mild Spoilers.
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. (Goodreads)
The Five was everything I thought it would be and more. If you’re a fan of true crime, historical non-fiction, and stories told through the lens of women this book is for you. It was hard to put down, descriptive, highly researched, and had an emotional pull to it that had you wishing you didn’t know the tragic end to Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane’s life.
I have always been fascinated by true crime, specifically, the case of Jack the Ripper. I knew I needed to read this book when I first found it. What I loved most about this book is that it wasn’t about Jack. It was about Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane and the lives they lived before Jack turned them from women into victims. Most people know about Jack the Ripper and what he did, but so few know about the women he killed. They might say they were prostitutes or homeless, but aside from what Jack did to them, little is known in the mainstream about the victims. This book strips away Jack and finally sheds light on the women as mothers, daughters, and human beings and not as tragic victims.
“The victims of Jack the Ripper were never ‘just prostitutes’; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and lovers. They were women. They were human beings, and surely that in itself is enough.”― Hallie Rubenhold, The Five: The Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Women
Rubenhold takes a lot of rhetoric around the victims of Jack the Ripper and rewrites it. They weren’t all prostitutes. In fact, only two of the victims had any evidence that they were prostitutes. These were women who fate and life had taken down a tragic path. They started as children with families and dreams and eventually life stripped them of everything they had. Reading the stories of these women was almost more tragic then their end. Many times Rubenhold writes that if a certain thing hadn’t happened to one of the women, maybe they wouldn’t have been on the street that night with Jack. I also loved that she gave very little word count to the actual murder of these women. Each of their sections in the book ends minutes before they even meet Jack and I appreciated that. She keeps to her focus and Jack never brings his shadow to this book.
This book didn’t read like a lot of non-fiction books. It didn’t have that heavy handed research feel to it that makes some non-fiction books a drag to get through. Rubenhold’s writing is so descriptive and in-depth that I felt actually transported to the 1800s London. She describes the world these women lived in with rich detail and tons of research. You can tell when reading this book that Rubenhold did her research and she did it well.
The one part that did bother me was that despite all of the research, there were many instances where Rubenhold makes assumptions about what may have happened. I understand that a lot of information has been lost to history and even in 1888 the information was missing, but I wish there was less guessing and more sticking to the facts.
The Five was an eye-opening, insightful look at the lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper and I highly recommend this book to any true crime fans. It’s a story that is finally giving voice to the victims and adding a piece to Ripperology that has been missing for a long time.
Any other Jack the Ripper or true crime fans out there? I really enjoyed this book and would love to talk about it with anyone who’s read it!