The Five

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Book description

THE #1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NONFICTION 2019
'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though…

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Why read it?

11 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit here. A lot of people have heard of the women Rubenhold writes about because they’re famous for being Jack the Ripper’s victims.

And for many of the women, what they did was not particularly scandalous, since Rubenhold goes a long way to show that not all of them were streetwalkers. But this book is such a beautiful and heartbreaking read. It’s a meticulous and gripping reconstruction of the lives of women we thought we knew but don’t. She brings nineteenth-century London alive in a way that few authors have – when I read…

The Five is an exceptional piece of historical detective work about five women, victims of a notorious serial killer, whom Rubenhold has managed to restore to humanity. Until now, they were casually dismissed as fallen women, while a cult developed about the Ripper himself.

I was fascinated by Rubenhold’s research into the hard lives, bad luck, and ill-health that dogged the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims, only one of whom was a confirmed prostitute. The portrait of Dickensian London is rich with horrifying details, while the women, themselves, are shown as wives, mothers, and sisters. But most of all,…

From Charlotte's list on history books by women.

This is a superb book that rightly won a number of literary prizes after its publication in 2020. 

Rather than play the parlour game of trying to guess the identity of Jack the Ripper, Rubenhold – a social historian – does what the book says on its cover: it tells the stories of the women who were killed by Jack the Ripper. We see them in their complexity and begin to understand the crushing social and economic circumstances that came to dominate their lives before they were murdered.  

I know what you’re thinking. As soon as I say The Five is nonfiction about the victims of Jack the Ripper, you’re going to cringe. 

Not to worry, this incredible book is a recounting not of the murders, but of the lives of Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane, victims of history’s most notorious serial killer.

Rubenhold’s extensive and impressive research introduces us to each woman, and the finely crafted prose helps us understand what their lives—and the lives of so many women in Victorian times—were like. 

When you read the book (and you’ll thank me for it) don’t…

From Anastasia's list on dark and stormy Victorian vibes.

The five women who were Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims have always been just that, his victims. Rubenhold gives them back their identities, in their own right, as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives and challenges the ‘traditional’ view. For three of them, there is no evidence that they were prostitutes, but all five were women battling personal demons who were down on their luck. They were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. The Five is not the story of their deaths, but their lives.

I love books that teach me something new about something I had always assumed to be true, like the “fact” that Jack the Ripper preyed on prostitutes. Rubenhold turns this narrative on its head to give Ripper’s canonical victims “that which was so brutally taken away with their lives: their dignity.” These exhaustively researched biographies show how sickness, trauma, and addiction intersected with the indifference of employers, husbands, and public officials to force each woman out onto the streets of Whitechapel. The Five is not just an impassioned indictment of middle-class Victorian society, but of any society that decides working-class…

Well over a century after his reign of terror, Jack the Ripper remains a household name, his identity the subject of endless public debate. In her group biography of the ‘Canonical Five’—the five women most widely regarded as the Ripper’s victims—Hallie Rubenhold takes a different approach. Instead of spilling yet more ink on attempts to unmask this Victorian serial killer, she focuses instead on the women whose lives were brutally taken away. I loved the way that Rubenhold’s justifiably angry narrative transformed Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly from a homogenous group of…

I bought this book after I attended a talk given by the author at the Bath Festival – Hallie Rubenhold is a historian I had read before but The Five was entirely different than her previous books.

The book delves deep into the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims rather than exploring who Jack might or might not have been. I was deeply moved by these women’s stories and how easily they were branded as prostitutes by the press. Each endured a different set of circumstances that brought them to Whitechapel…circumstances of which anyone could find themselves the victim of.…

When Hallie Rubenhold set out to write The Five, she thought she would be writing about the lives of England’s most famous prostitutes, the five women killed by Jack the Ripper. Instead, she discovered that three of the victims were not sex workers at all. They were just desperately poor and in the wrong place at the wrong time. And like my main character, Diamond Bessie, these women also lived at the wrong time. Newspapers in England and around the world intimated that the Ripper’s victims basically got what they deserved. Rubenhold authoritatively and engrossingly refutes this, but as…

From Jody's list on 19th century prostitutes.

One of my favorite things a book can do is offer to show me what I think know is wrong. Many readers passionate about history might think they understand the lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper in White Chapel in 1888. Weren’t they prostitutes? Well, no. In this masterful book, Hallie Rubenhold digs into true stories of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows, and Mary Jane Kelly, shifting the focus from the killer who has gripped the public for more than a century, to his victims. She reveals complex women, invariably struggling, invariably poor,…

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