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.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that “the Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
Hallie Rubenhold has written a fascinating true crime story highlighting five of Jack the Ripper’s victims – Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane. After death, all of these women were labeled alcoholic prostitutes, but were they really?
An amazing amount of research has gone into the writing of this book! Through census records, marriage certificates, death certificates, newspaper articles, and so on these five women’s lives have been reconstructed unlike ever before. Jack the Ripper’s victims were assumed to all be alcoholic prostitutes, but there is far more to these women than what meets the eye. Many of them were married at some point, had children, worked, and so on. Yes, they all became down on their luck and made poor decisions, but the labels they received were not necessarily warranted.
It was impossible for every moment of these five women’s lives to be known. When needed Hallie Rubenhold tells the reader what was typical for the times to give us a sense of who they were, what they may have been thinking at the time, and why they may have made some of the decisions that they made.
Her vivid descriptions took me right to the Victorian Era. She managed to pull me into this story through the sights and sounds of the times. I learned a lot about what life was like during this time period in London for both the lower and the middle class.
It is such a shame that the police came to such quick assumptions as to who these women were. There were a number of omissions, inconsistencies, and unanswered questions that surrounded these horrific crimes. Maybe, just maybe if their deaths had been properly investigated their killer may have been apprehended. Sadly, this is something we will never know.
*Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read and review this book via NetGalley for my honest opinion.
Genre: True Crime
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 4/9/2019
Pages: 336 (eBook)
*Book 5/20 in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge.
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