Posted in Book review, Books, Reading Challenge

Book review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

I’ve read a couple of very interesting non-fiction books recently and The Five is one of them. Very much recommended!

It is likely that Jack the Ripper is known to most of us in some way whether from history or different forms of fiction. You know: the mysterious killer, who stalked the streets of Victorian London and apparently targeted prostitutes? Except that the women weren’t all prostitutes.

Here’s a book that will finally give the spotlight to the victims and show them as so much more than “just prostitutes”.

It is for them that I write this book. I do so in the hope that we may now hear their stories clearly and give back to them that which was so brutally taken away with their lives: their dignity.

It took me a rather long time to read this book because it was just so full of fascinating details that I just wanted to slowly absorb it all.

I think there has been quite a lot of mentioning about The Five in different medias that have book reviews. I hope I’m not imagining the hype, since I really think this book is worth it. 🙂 Oh and apparently in addition to positive hype, author Hallie Rubenhold has received hate messages from people claiming to be Jack the Ripper specialists/enthusiasts who are not happy about this book. Honestly people sometimes still puzzle me. *eyeroll*

The Five is not about Jack the Ripper but the spotlight is finally given to his victims:

  • Mary Ann Nichols
  • Annie Chapman
  • Elisabeth Stride
  • Catherine Eddowes
  • Mary Jane Kelly

These were the women who had their lives taken away from them by a murderer. They were called prostitutes, almost by default by the press of that time and that is how history came to remember them. But now The Five digs into the details of the lives these women had before they were killed, and the overall circumstances they had in the Victorian era.

There has been a huge amount of research done to bring these women back to life, and because of that we get to follow them from the earliest details that were available to all the way to the sad ends. In addition to the different stages of life these women had, The Five gives us a very harsh look of how the lower working classes and the poor lived in the Victorian era. The description of the misery of everyday life was very fascinating (and horrible). I’ve often said that I enjoy reading historical fiction, Victorian era being one of my favorites, but those novels have usually revolved around nobility and royalty. So this angle of that era felt fresh and serves as a good reminder of how much better life is now compared to late 1800s.

To be honest, reading about what these women had go through (because there was little option) , made me feel sick. Even if the murderer hadn’t gotten to them, I would guess their life expectancy wasn’t going to be high. The diseases alone were likely to kill so many of the poor and homeless. I think all of the five women were described as having some or very serious issues with alcohol usage and I have to say, in those circumstances I can’t blame them for numbing everything with drink. As women who had abandoned their homes and left their families, they were seen as the filth in a very moralizing society because the society back then still very much had the women in two categories: madonnas and whores. It was easy for the press to label these women as prostitutes, because why else would a decent woman walk the streets alone (one of the women, Mary Jane Kelly, was actually murdered indoors). For four of the five victims there is no evidence that they identified themselves as prostitutes. They were women in very difficult circumstances, but also women who had actual lives: being young girls, wives and mothers with their own personalities.

I am glad that I read this book. Somehow it feels good to have read about the lives of these women as if I’ve given their voices some space in this time, something they weren’t given in their own era.

The Five fills these prompts in the two reading challenges I’m doing this year:

A book written by a researcher (Helmet Reading Challenge)
A book that won an award in 2019 (Popsugar Reading Challenge)

Author:

I love books, games and the coziness of our house (currently it's the kingdom of me and my husband). My work in a game studio as a Senior HR Specialist keeps me busy and social, but I am an introvert in my core. Navigating life between my very social work and my introvert, less social personality can be tricky and it goes hand in hand with my interest in overall personal well-being.

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