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.
I saw this book advertised and thought it looked intriguing after seeing it on a YouTube channel – a few days later it appeared as an Audible deal so I snapped it up for £1.99 and I’m so glad I did.
The focus in history is always on Jack the Ripper. Who was he? What was his motive? What did these women do to cross his path? There was hardly a mention of them women, who they were and what happened in their lives. I’ll admit that like most people I hadn’t considered more than what I was told.
Learning about these women, about their lives, families and their circumstances was fascinating. The lengths that Rubenhold has gone to to research their stories is incredible and this deserves all of the awards it has won. The book is more than just life stories, we can look at Victorian society and the ever changing landscape of the industrial revolution and the people who were struggling to get by.
I had no idea about the level of addiction at the time for normal everyday people and the impact this had on women in particular. It also humanised these women, that they simply fell into hard times and paid the ultimate price. The suggestion that they were prostitutes were mostly unfounded and another hit at the ‘downtrodden women’.
Of course this is embellished for the book, there is no way of knowing what the women were thinking or their exact movements but this doesn’t take away from the information we are given. I am awestruck by Rubenhold’s ability to really draw us in to these women’s stories and feel for them.
Without a doubt this was a 5 star read for me. Seeing this other side of history feels like we are giving some kind of voice to those women who have been ignored in their own deaths. An excellent book and I would also highly recommend the audiobook.