Social historian Rubenhold (The Covent Garden Ladies) more than justifies another book about the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders by focusing on the killer’s five victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. This unique approach not only restores humanity to the dead and counters glorification of the Ripper but also enables Rubenhold to offer some original insights into the crimes. In her careful parsing of the available accounts of the inquests from newspaper reports, she convincingly argues that three of the victims were not prostitutes, and thereby undermines numerous theories premised on the killer’s targeting members of that profession. Rubenhold reconstructs their sad lives, which, for some, included struggles with alcoholism and domestic abuse. She believes that the women found dead on the streets of London’s East End may have been sleeping rough, and that all were slaughtered while asleep, a theory that explains the absence of outcries or defensive wounds. The lack of grisly forensic details highlighted in other books on the subject will be a relief to many readers. This moving work is a must for Ripperologists . Agent: Sarah Ballard, United Agents. (Apr.)
British social historian and novelist Rubenhold (The French Lesson, 2016, etc.) improves the reputations of "Jack the Ripper's five ‘canonical' victims."
Alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, abuse: London was awash in social problems in the later decades of the 19th century, a time when, as in New York, tenements were sprouting up, filled by immigrants and migrants from the countryside. Such was the setting against which the grimy life of Polly Nichols, the first victim of the legendary Jack the Ripper, played out. "The poor of that district lived in unspeakably horrendous conditions," writes the author. It was worse for women than men, since women were more constrained economically and often had multiple responsibilities as mothers and spouses as well as workers. Polly walked away from all that, addicted to alcohol, and took to the streets, where her murderer found her in 1888. "In death," writes Rubenhold, "she would become as legendary as the Artful Dodger, Fagin, or even Oliver Twist, the truth of her life as entangled with the imaginary as theirs." If the Dickensian emphasis is a touch overdone, the point remains: Polly would thereafter often be portrayed as merely a prostitute whose death was inevitable. So with the other four, who, argues the author, were not prostitutes and certainly were not complicit in the circumstances of their deaths, even though they have been depicted that way from the moment of their murders to the present—a matter of "guilt by association," the women left defenseless by the voicelessness of the poor and those who "broke all the rules of what it meant to be feminine." Allowing that the documentary record is incomplete—the case files on three of the five murders have gone missing—Rubenhold urges us to see the victims as just that and not as the "fallen women" of the received record.
A lively if morbid exercise in Victorian social history essential to students of Ripperiana.
A New York Times Book Review ‘Summer Reading Best True Crime’ A Washington Post ‘20 Books to Read This Summer’ An Oprah.com ‘20 Best True Crime Books That’ll Make You Want to Sleep With the Lights On’ “Rubenhold has produced a significant study of how poor and working-class women subsisted in an unforgiving age.”—The New York Times Book Review “Hallie Rubenhold’s hard-edged, heartbreaking biographies of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper over two months in 1888 offer a blistering counter-narrative to the ‘male, authoritarian, and middle class’ legend of a demonic superman preying on prostitutes… Her riveting work, both compassionate group portrait and stinging social history, finally gives them their due.”—The Washington Post “The five London women murdered by Jack the Ripper, in 1888, were long assumed to be prostitutes. This history shows otherwise, presenting deeply researched portraits of the victims as they lived: they were all poor, some to the point of homelessness; they were all apparently killed while asleep; and, with one exception, they were known by family and acquaintances not to be prostitutes. Each had a distinct story that has never been fully or truthfully told. Why Victorians preferred to embrace the myth is one question that guides the book; why we continue to do so is another.”—The New Yorker “All too often, murder victims’ stories are relegated to the footnotes of history, overshadowed by not only their violent ends, but the looming specter of their killers. In The Five, historian Hallie Rubenhold sets out to correct this imbalance, placing the focus on [the victims] rather than the still-unidentified serial killer who ended their lives in 1888.”—Smithsonian “An effort to remedy the Ripper imbalance.”—Time “A must for Ripperologists.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review “Essential to students of Ripperiana.”—Kirkus Reviews “Focusing on [the victims] backstories rather than the forensic details of their deaths, Rubenhold puts them back into their larger social context.”—Jezebel “Jack the Ripper continues to be a mystery, but these women are now less so.”—Bust “Rubenhold does a commendable job in bringing these women on stage and through their stories illuminating the appalling reality behind the veneer of Victorian complacency. For these women, and millions like them, life in Victorian England was not an episode of Masterpiece Theater.”—New York Journal of Books “The Five is a long-overdue investigation that shines the spotlight on [the victims], giving context to who they were and what circumstances molded their lives.”—Hypable “At last, the Ripper’s victims get a voice . . . An eloquent, stirring challenge to reject the prevailing Ripper myth.” — Mail on Sunday “[A]n angry and important work of historical detection . . . The Five is not simply about the women who were murdered in Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888: it is for them. This is a powerful and a shaming book, but most shameful of all is that it took 130 years to write.” — Guardian “Deeply researched and powerfully told, The Five unearths the truth behind the Victorian Age’s most sensational crime: the 1888 murder spree of Jack the Ripper. Hallie Rubenhold reaches beyond 130 years’ worth of lurid headlines and misleading reports to humanize the victims and explore their lives—and tragic, untimely deaths. The Five is a coruscating gem of a book, as necessary as it is compelling.” — Karen Abbott, New York Times best-selling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy “Meticulously researched and beautifully executed, The Five is a powerful and timely retelling of a story you think you already know. Rubenhold strips away decades of myths and misconceptions so that the women who were ruthlessly murdered by Jack the Ripper are no longer one-dimensional characters in a Penny Dreadful, but real human beings with very real struggles, hopes, and fears. With this important book, Rubenhold proves she is a master of narrative nonfiction: a historian with a novelist’s soul.” — Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art “Devastatingly good. The Five will leave you in tears, of pity and of rage.” — Lucy Worsley, BBC presenter, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and author “What a brilliant and necessary book.” — Jo Baker, best-selling author Longbourn “A Ripper narrative that gives voice to the women he silenced; I’ve been waiting for this book for years. Beautifully written and with the grip of a thriller, it will open your eyes and break your heart.” — Erin Kelly, best-selling author of He Said/She Said
Debates have long raged about Jack the Ripper's identity, but what about the identity of his victims? A social historian and historical fiction writer, Rubenhold reveals that they were not prostitutes, as we've always been told, but women going about their business—one ran a coffeehouse, another worked at a printing press, yet another lived on a country estate—who sadly crossed paths with a killer.