The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Can I give this six stars? I want to give it all the stars and then double it.
Stop what you're doing and read this book.
Of course I "know" Jack the Ripper, thanks to movies, TV shows, and documentaries about the 1888 murders in Whitechapel. The poor prostitutes of Victorian London.
Mind blown by this book. Rubenhold has researched the lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and it turns out, poor, yes. Prostitutes? Their individual lives were complex and two did engage in sex work. But no, not all. And that realization could alter how one thinks about who Jack killed and why -- but no. This is not a book about Jack. It's for another to use this to look at Jack the Ripper; this book is about the women.
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane. One by one, their stories are told, starting with their births. Their deaths are not described; the mourning, the impact on family and friends, is.
Put aside the murders; this is of interest to look at lives that history normally ignores. Women who are poor. Or, rather, whose lives end in a place of poverty.
This book is heartbreaking, not just because each of these women are murdered. But because for each of them, it was a tragic slide into poverty, a life of bad luck, few choices, no opportunities. It wasn't that there was "one thing", but so many things.
Unhappy marriages with no ability to divorce and no real spousal support and no opportunity to make money to earn a living. Deaths of parents that shift a family from close and loving and struggling, to one divided between family members at best or in the work house at worst. Alcoholism, and the impact across generations. Single women getting pregnant and the punishing consequences.
So many, many things --but some universal commonalities. The lack of a social services. The work it takes to survive while poor. The lack of work opportunities. A world view that sees women as either saints or whores, so that those that fall out of one role of course have to be in the other.
Also, the original research! The primary documents! The checking of workhouse records to see where people stayed, even if just for two nights, in the days and months and years before they died.
This is not a book about a murderer; it is not a book about murders; it is not a book about depth.
It's about five women who were alive, and loved, and did the best they could. And it gives back the dignity they lost.
Read this; you won't regret it.
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