Audiobook. At the time of this review the ebook is available to borrow via Kindle Unlimited.
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, Elisabeth, 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 coffeehouses, lived on country estates; they breathed ink dust from printing presses and escaped human 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, but 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 women.
This was an engaging listen that gripped me from the first minutes to the last. I admit to knowing very little about Ripper lore or anything about the time period & location beyond what this book asserts that most people think they know – all of his victims were prostitutes. What I particularly enjoyed that is that Hallie Rubenhold proves through public records (much was readily available to the sensationalist media of the time) that not all of these women were prostitutes – while simultaneously honoring that no matter their background or circumstance they did not deserve to be dismissed, maligned, or in another way held responsible for being in a location to be murdered.
What this book does not include, nor does it claim to, is any belabored descriptions of the murders or positing of who Jack the Ripper actually was. Rubenhold gives complete yet enthralling biographies of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane. While I superficially knew of some of the hardships of being a woman in the late 1800’s, at the end I no choice but to acknowledge what a miracle it was that any woman born to their stations managed to survive with a fulfilling life.
I am haunted and saddened by these lives taken and so grateful their stories and history were told.
Louise Brealey’s narration was impeccable. She gave an added level of compassion and emphasis where appropriate.
About the author:
Hallie Rubenhold is a bestselling author, social historian, broadcaster and historical consultant for TV and film.
You can connect with Hallie Rubenhold here:
My Favorite Quotes
The victims of Jack the Ripper were never ‘just prostitutes’; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and lovers. They were women. They were human beings, and surely that in itself is enough. – The Five by @HallieRubenhold narrated by @louisebrealeyTweet
They were worth more to us than the empty human shells we have taken them for – The Five by @HallieRubenhold narrated by @louisebrealeyTweet