book review

Book Review: The Five by Hallie Rubenfold

What do you know about Jack the Ripper? 

Famous murderer, stalked the streets of London in the late 19th century, brutally murdered 5 women?

But what do you know about those five women? Probably the only thing you know is that they were prostitutes, or were they? 

That is the intriguing angle Hallie Rubenhold takes in her book ‘The Five: the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper’

This book lays out in detail the lives, from birth to death, of the five Ripper victims.  

I will admit that I always thought I knew a fair bit about the Jack the Ripper case. I’ve read numerous books, both non-fiction and fiction about it, I even watched a fascinating documentary last year called ‘American Ripper’ (it explored the theory that Jack the Ripper could have been H.H Holmes the mind behind the infamous ‘Murder Castle’ in Chicago)  

However, I barely knew the half of it, and what this book has opened my eyes to is the state of London during this time, along with the background and upbringing of each of the victims. 

What Rubenhold lays out from the start and backs up with some well researched writing is that aside from Mary Jane Kelly, none of these women were known to be a prostitute. Most of them were just down and out women, in the wrong place at the wrong time, who, for the sake of an expedient resolution, were lumped into the same category as prostitutes. 

As I mentioned this is a very well researched and annotated book, a lot of time and effort has gone into this and it has certainly paid off as Rubenfold also has a way of making history come alive. I often found myself hoping that things would work out for these poor women, briefly forgetting why they’re in the book in the first place. 

The one part of the book that stood out for me the most, was the story of Annie Chapman. She had a good upbringing; her father was a soldier and her mother was in service. Annie also had a job in service then made a good marriage. Her husband was a coachman who eventually made his way up to head coachman to Sir Frances Barry. With a reasonably sized home and a comfortable income, the Chapmans, for all intents and purposes, were middle class. I was practically bouncing in my seat at this point, so pleased to watch Annie’s rise through the class system. Unfortunately, my elation was short lived, as Hallie Rubenhold knows exactly how to pull you along on this journey, and she also knows how to bring you crashing down to reality. As attested by the last sentence of the chapter chronicling Annie’s rise to middle class. 

“The courses of all their lives might have ended quite differently had Annie Chapman not been an alcoholic” 

The rest follows Annies fall from grace, and the stories of all five women follow a similar pattern. You can draw your own conclusions from the information you get from this book, but what it essentially lays out for you is that these women weren’t mere prostitutes, they didn’t deserve what happened to them (apparently a common opinion at the time) They were broken women let down by a broken system. There are some clear correlations drawn between these women and present-day issues, as a result there are also some important lessons to be learnt, historically and socially.  

It’s a good read, I highly recommend it.  

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