07 Mar One, Two, Three, Four, The Five by Hallie Rubenhold: A Review
I am a crime junkie. I have favourite true crime podcasts, I have probably watched every true crime documentary on Netflix (and, if not, I soon will). It’s a deep, weird fascination for me, considering I scare easily. So, of course, I love a good Jack the Ripper book and, when it comes to The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, let me tell you why you need to read this book.
About the Book
Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.
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. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
I went into this read thinking I’d get all the blood and gory details from these five killings of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. However, as each of their stories unfolded, I was moved further and further from the blood and gore I was expecting, which resulted in my getting a lot more than just true crime.
Hallie Rubenhold unpacks the backstories of each of the Ripper’s victims: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane. She gives each of these women their place in history. As a true crime junkie, I went into this book already knowing quite a bit about The Ripper but, honestly, I never knew his victims’ names. These women were faceless, were ladies of the night, involved in the kind of social depravity which caused onlookers to avert their eyes. To strip these women of their individuality — the usual approach to a Jack story — presents the reader with a rather one-dimensional retelling of this history. In effect: these women merely existed to allow Jack The Ripper achieve his fame. As Rubenhold points out towards the end of her book: The more famous Jack the Ripper gets the more faceless Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane become.
What some of these women had in common was that they eventually were at the mercy of their time and place in society, each suffering broken hearts which ultimately forced them to turn to alcoholism and the streets to survive — their husbands having turned their backs on them. While others decided to trust and follow men down dark paths. Ultimately, their fates and deaths were in the hands of men that failed them. They truly had no way out of their circumstances.
I picked this title up expecting the true crime gore and thrill but what I got was so much better than that. Slowly I learnt how each of these women fell from grace and was then hunted by the Ripper. I learnt that each had lost children, had lost loved ones and truly suffered for it, turning to the streets to make some kind of living to feed themselves, to eke out some kind of existence. It’s plain to see that none of these women would’ve wanted to end up this way but to simply label them ‘victims’ and leave them would be tragic — these are the women that put Jack the Ripper on the map, as it were.
Well worth the read, I suggest picking up The Five by Hallie Rubenhold.
3 out 5 stars
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