The Five by Hallie Rubenhold #review

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - book cover

Title: The Five:  The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Publisher: Transworld

[Synopsis]

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.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories. 

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[My Review]

The Five is an interesting, important book telling the stories of the women ‘Jack the Ripper’ killed all those years ago. Instead of focusing on the person who committed the murders, or the actual murders themselves, author Hallie Rubenhold takes us back to the births of these five women – sometimes before they were born – to show us the lives they were born into and their own personal history. The stories we then read are a powerful way to show us that each woman had their own lives, loves, problems and triumphs. They weren’t just names on a list of the serial killer’s victims – they’re real people.

Based on accounts by people who knew them well and not-so-well, as well as newspaper articles, censuses, registers and more, we slowly build a picture of these women and how they came to be the women they were when they died. Many of them were not proven to be prostitutes, but assumed so by newspapers at the time. It’s shocking how we remember them this way despite there being, for most of the women, no real evidence of prostitution. The chapter at the end goes into some exploration of why society feels this way about these women, and how perhps thinking of them in this way makes these murders a little easier to swallow – shockingly.

I really enjoyed reading about the lives of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, and think this is an important read for anyone interested in history. I also liked that a lot of it is set in the area I work and live in – Whitechapel, Aldgate, Shoreditch and the surrounding area. I recognised street names and found this added an extra element of interest in the story for me. This is definitely an interesting story and made a nice non-fiction change for me!

[Rating: 4.5/5]

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3 comments

  1. This was such a fantastic read! I finished it a few weeks back and it absolutely broke my heart. As if all the indignities that they faced in life weren’t enough, they were then branded as simply ‘prostitutes’ and nothing more in death. I’m so glad that their stories have been told at long last. Great review!

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