Many will think they know the truth of Jack the Ripper. Touted as the world’s first serial killer, he remains anonymous. “Jack” brutally murdered 5 prostitutes who were working the streets in one of the poorest areas of London in 1888. Despite the killer’s anonymity, or perhaps because of it, to date most of the dialogue on these murders has focused on the perpetrator - who was Jack, how did he do it, how did he escape capture, why did the killings stop? The killer has been celebritized, with books published, movies made, halloween costumes created, whilst his victims have been treated as mere footnotes. Barely worthy of remark. Treated as unworthy of interest as they were fallen women, prostitutes, so perhaps they even had it coming...
The Five challenges this standard narrative. It is not interested in who the killer was (a sick bastard to be sure!) - but who were the victims. Through meticulous research Hallie Rubenhold interweaves the lives of the five victims into our knowledge of Victorian society. The victims are alive in this book. Navigating their way through the trials and tribulations faced by the lower echelons of Victorian society. They were connected in life through their poverty. They are connected in death through the manner in which they were killed.
In this book each of the five victims, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane, are treated as somebody.
It was devastating to read their stories. To see their lives unraveling due, in many cases, to no fault of their own but by the simple lottery of who their parents were, and the fact that they were born female. Born into poverty their lives were an at times daily struggle. When often one misfortune lead to an unstoppable downwards spiral to destitution.
The misogynistic bias that has pervaded the ripper narrative is called out, challenged, and blown away by the sheer weight of evidence provided.
Reading their stories my heart broke in turn for Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane.
In attempting to address the bias, prejudice and inaccuracies of the Ripper narratives to date, this book goes an important step further - it gives the five back their dignity. These were five women. Living their lives as best they could. There lives mercilessly cut short in horrific manner.
It is time to stop glorifying and celebritizing the killer and remember the victims for what they were. People. Each one was somebody. Included photographs of victims and associates in life a poignant reminder of this truth. The lists of items recovered on their bodies offers a real glimpse into who these women were, how they lived and what they held to be dear and important.
This book is terrific. A lone, but strong and defining voice in the Ripper narratives. Attempting to rebalance the injustices done to these women from the time their lives were brutally taken from them.
This is a phenomenal achievement of research. It brings to life the diverse, multilayered and complex lives of five women whom history has sadly turned into two dimensional caricatures. This book is a real achievement. More than 130 years after Jack the Ripper murdered Annie, Mary Ann, Polly, Elizabeth, and Mary Jane, there is much to learn still that applies in a modern society.
If I wanted a book on the social history of victorian slums this would be it. Slogged through the first part and then gave up after poor old Polly. It just waffled on with facts and figures with the five just popped in amongst it. Skipped to the end. Not much better. Best part was the photographs.