The Five : The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
By Hallie Rubenhold
Publication day: 28 Feb 2019
I would certainly say that my 2020 will be a year full of books and, most of all, full of non-fiction titles. To be honest, I don’t know why but I have been picking up biographies and memoirs since the beginning of the year. The one I am reviewing today bewitched my mind to the point that I was unable to put it down.
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold tells the story of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, five women who are famous for the same thing. They are known as the Canonical Five and were killed by Jack the Ripper at the end of the XIX century. The person responsible was never identified but the character has become far more famous than any of these women.
And I say women, not prostitutes, because for more than a century we’ve believed that ‘The Ripper’ killed only prostitutes and – as the author has discovered – this is untrue.These women were mothers, daughters and lovers. They walked the streets of London and died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this book, Hallie Rubenhold sets the record straight and reveals the live stories of these fascinating women.
Genuinely devastating, this book opened my eyes to life in Victorian London. It is the life portrayed in Dickens’ novels: a life of poverty, homelessness, illness and misogyny. It was deeply unsetting and honestly addictive. Made me want to know more about life during these years and how the society reacted to the Whitechapel murders.
The book is divided into five different parts and each of them narrates the life story of the different victims. The book is not only incredibly well written but thoroughly researched. Rubenhold clearly knows what she is writing about.
What I really liked about the book is that the author treats the victims with respect and offers no judgement to their life choices or behaviours which is utterly remarkable. No gruesome details or horror stories are given to the readers, nor pictures of the women either, which made the author’s message clear: these women were victims that were treated without any kind of respect and it’s time to change that. For the last century, their murderer has attracted more attention than them to the point that nowadays there is a Jack the Ripper museum and walks around the sites of the murders.
What Rubenhold tries to make us understand is that the victims were not ‘just prostitutes’, they had a life, desires and feelings – and they deserved kindness and appreciation. Maybe it’s time we start giving it to them.