I'm glad somebody has written a book about Jack the Ripper's five victims, that the notorious murderer doesn't feature at all in the narrative, however, the book has too much conjecture and is overburdened by research, making getting through it something of a slog. As social history, and critique of the limited choices available to poor women in Victorian England, Rubenhold's account is shocking in its detail of the precarious existence of working class people: hard work for little pay if in employment, miserable accommodation if sufficiently solvent to pay weekly or nightly rent, loss of a job or death of a husband, partner or father leading to the workhouse or street work (begging, prostitution). Can we blame the poor unfortunates for turning to alcohol as solace and oblivion, even if this made bad situations worse and led to violence and added misery? Yet the Ripper's victims remain very much unknowable, as is the lot of the lower classes throughout history until Marxist historians turned attention to ordinary lives in the mid 20th C, finding new ways to dig information out of archives and statistical records. That reinventing oneself was easy in those times, and actual documentation of the canonical Whitechapel murders limited, so what we know often comes from newspaper reports, makes getting to the truth extremely difficult if not impossible. With the individual lives of Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, the bare facts must be stretched to make untold lives into told ones. There's a lot of 'would have', 'could have' and might have' conjecture, imaginative leaps, turning generalisations into specifics. Rubenhold certainly succeeds in her objective of shining a light on the lives and experiences of five very different women, united by poverty, limited options, judgemental society, official disinterest, alcohol, and violent death at the hands of a murderer whose identity has grabbed all the attention ever since his gruesome killings. That Rubenhold seems determined to prove four out of five women murdered by the Ripper weren't sex workers only reinforces the idea we can only sympathise with them if they weren't selling their bodies. So the judging goes on, 'good' women as undeserving of their fate vs 'fallen' women whose way of life led to a violent end.
This book tells the story of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. Rubenhold’s stated intention is to reclaim their lives, where popular culture has repainted their deaths as glamorous and history mostly remembers them as immoral prostitutes who somehow deserved their fates. In presenting these woman, Rubenhold does a stellar job of creating a vivid picture of the world in which they lived: London towards the end of the 19th Century. She expertly treads a fine line between compelling story and verifiable history, carefully researched and without straying into conjecture. I had anticipated this book being a bit of a trudge, but it was fluidly written and extremely fascinating. Each woman is given a compelling and complete story. By giving detailed and nuanced accounts of their lives, Rubenhold shows the undeserved labels that these five women were stuck with and the limited options and rigid societal structures which led them into vulnerable positions.
This book takes you back to Victorian London and gives detailed accounts of the five victims of Jack the Ripper. I felt transported back to that time, and really felt for the five women and how hard it must have been to survive let alone live in those times. Very well researched, definitely worth a read.
The book was well researched and gave us a detailed account of the lives of the five murdered women. I was surprised when I read that all of the women had succumbed to the demon drink! The book also gave us an incredible insight into how hard life was in Victorian society at the time. Well worth reading.