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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Continuing our murderous streak from last week (I am starting to see a theme, I do seem to like crime stuff a lot), this week I’m recommending a very interesting and relevant book: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.

The title alone should be interesting enough to attract your attention. It sure did mine, as I bought the book the second I saw it at the store. For so long, the story of Jack the Ripper has been one-sided. Everyone, young or old, knows this story, it’s been told so many times in so many versions, there’s blogs dedicated to it, people are trying to find out who this guy is even to this day, but not a lot of focus has been given to the people most affected by the Ripper: his victims. How many of us can say we even know their names?

The Five is a carefully and thoroughly researched book, written by historian Hallie Rubenhold, which takes you through the lives of the 5 canonical victims (Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly), from birth up to their death. Reading about how these women lived, how full and challenging and long their lives were really puts a twist on the story we’ve been familiar with for so long. If anything, their murders are just one tiny, but tragic point in their eventful lives.

The book is split into 5 parts, detailing the life of each woman chronologically. Without giving too much away, these stories will make you angry at the injustices women faced, the injustices poor people faced, and all the horrible things they and other people of their time had to deal with. Rubenhold’s research also sheds light on something groundbreaking about their cases: only two of these women were actually prostitutes. Jack the Ripper’s always been talked about as the killer of prostitutes, and yet this new revelation changes the story completely. What’s interesting is that, even with detailed proof and thorough research, Ripperologists refuse to accept Rubenhold’s findings, going so far as to becoming very nasty with her about her discovery. Really makes you think.

What I appreciated about this book is how little it mentioned the Ripper. These women were far more than this one man who, to me, seemed to have been just an insecure guy with a horde of issues who targeted vulnerable women. In the 400+ pages of the book, the attention is solely on these women and their lives, and what interesting lives at that. They fell in love, they had children, they had siblings, they came from other countries, they wrote ballads, lived on country estates, lived around printing presses, dealt with human traffickers, ran coffee houses, there’s so much more to these women no one’s ever bothered to learn before.

I’ll stop here for this week because I want the book to speak for itself. It’s a great piece of writing, it’s real, it’s tragic, and you can clearly see how much time and care went into researching and compiling and writing it. You won’t be able to keep this book down, and the frustration you’ll feel at these women’s suffering will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. Wholeheartedly recommend.

As always, thank you so much for reading, and see you next week!