Award Winners · Biography · History

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

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 – Hallie Rubenhold

Why I’m reading this book?

This book was awarded Goodreads choice award 2019 in History and biography category and storyline was a little different from anything I’ve heard about Jack the ripper. It’s not about the killer but the victims, who were lumped together in one category. For a change this book is not glorifying the killer and with the award in its kitty, it seems like book must be good.

My Review…

Book is categorized in five parts. Each part is dedicated to the killer’s victims. First time I got to know the name of those five victims. I could see them as person and feel sorrow, the real heartfelt sorrow, for the lives that were cut short because of a vulgar person.

In Polly’s story, I saw the abject poverty and a vicious circle of the struggle of the people living in it. What does it mean by workhouse and to live in it in 19th century in British provinces. What was its purpose and what has it became. Plight of a single woman and definite downward spiral of her life due to her status. I saw the regression of an educated woman in a horrific way. How easy was it to become a homeless beggar from the mistress of a house.

In Annie’s story, sorrow was tenfold. Because this was a women who saw the comforts of life. Unlike Polly, Annie was in middle class family since her childhood. But here, main killer was alcohol. It was alcohol that drove her from her house, husband, family and everything that was dear to her to her demise. It was a news to me that during that time water was so polluted that people used to drink beer and alcoholism was rampant.

Elisabeth’ story was the story of an immigrant. Her trials at home, a life in prostitution, a chance to leave that hell and dream about something good, getting accustomed in a foreign land, a whiff of that elusive bed of roses and poof! Everything gone and a person left with an emptiness. It was like her whole life was leading her to her final destiny. There were some detours, but she continued to the road of her destruction.

Kate’s story was very similar to the women who shared her fate. Born in middle class family, she too soon found life riddled with poverty, she tried to find solace in vagarancy and singing ballads with her partner. Though this life has some romanticism to it, it soon became very difficult to sustain with the arrivals of multitudes of children. Domestic abuse came along and with that trips to workhouses and chronic alcoholism. Shunned by her family, dulled by her alcohol and rendered helpless by lack of money, she too find her killer eventually.

Mary Jane’s story was the most enigmatic. There are no traces of her past life and people who knew her didn’t know a single thing about her. She led a life of prostitution and was hard on luck like so many white-chapel’s residents. She was the only one who was murdered in her bed , in her home and her only crime seems to be that she was a ‘Gay woman’.

Why anyone else should read this book?

This book has taken a huge step to set the record straight for the victims who were dehumanized since the beginning. It tells about their lives, their families, their personalities. They were not just prostitutes, they were not just the victims of Jack the ripper, they were human like all of us and every right to live and every right of the dignity after their deaths.

It also shows a very darker side of the victorian era where sun never supposedly set. Where to be born as a poor and woman will stamp their destiny for worse and it would be a black hole one can never come out of. Cards were stacked against them since birth. Prostitution, tramping, beggary were the only option available to them.

I think this book is very good. If nothing else then it should be read for honoring the extensive research behind it. From the scrapes of information from more than 130 years ago , author has weaved this story which gives a unique insight in the life of these unfortunate women. It was refreshing not to read gruesome details of murder and tiring discussion about the killer. It was only about the victims and it didn’t deter from them.

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