I am in several book clubs and as such find myself reading books from all different genres and subjects, something I appreciate as it forces me out of my reading comfort zone. I actually picked this book as my book club’s next read, knowing that it sounded good and that non-fiction is usually not my genre…and that I am participating in a non-fiction genre study for the next two years and could use this for one of the reading prompts. I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book (as much as you can enjoy a book about murder victims) and would recommend this, especially to those who don’t like non-fiction and are looking for a more narrative telling of a true story.
From Goodreads: 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.
Things I Liked:
Before picking up this book, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that with all the stories surrounding Jack the Ripper there had been nothing written about his victims. I thought the structure of the book (the prologue describing what the world was like then, the five women’s stories, and then the epilogue showing how much things have and have not changed) worked well and was an effective way to tell the story. Rubenhold is very clear about stating when there isn’t much information about one of the victims so she does a good job of explaining what the typical woman would have dealt with during Victorian times (spoiler alert: women were not treated well). I love how she takes the myth that all the victims were prostitutes and debunks that idea but also goes a step further to show that even if one or all five of these women had to resort to prostitution at some point in their lives, there was usually a valid reason to do so. Many of the issues these women had to deal with (alcoholism, death of family, sickness) would have been handled very differently in modern times and it was sometimes sad to think about how their lives would have been different had they been born in a different time. She gives life to these women, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane and makes them more than just victims of Jack the Ripper.
Things I didn’t Like:
In an effort to fill in some of the many blanks found in these women’s lives, Rubenhold sometimes makes assumptions about them that I found surprising in a non-fiction book. This is not to say that her assumptions couldn’t be backed up, but I wish she would have stuck to just the facts.
This is a much needed book that finally gives a voice to the victims of Jack the Ripper, something that has been long overdue. Rubenhold tells their stories with compassion and does a good job of tying modern views of women together with the Victorian age. I would recommend this book to history buffs and causal non-fiction readers alike.
“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.”
Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Published: April 9, 2019
Rating: 4 Stars