Venturing into the realm of Jack the Ripper with ‘The Five’

Sometimes I’m amazed by how little we question history and its accepted narratives.

For nearly 130 years, we’ve been told that the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly were ‘just prostitutes’ and remarkably, most of us have swallowed this whole. It’s as if somehow tarring them with the brush of ‘prostitute’ makes their murders understandable and their lives worthless of investigation or attention. Instead we’ve spent nearly 130 years splitting hairs, studying coroner’s reports and extremely spurious witness statements trying to solve a series of murders which, for numerous reasons, are unlikely ever to be solved. We have given more time to the murderer than we ever have to his (or her) victims. How has this come about?

More to the point – what if virtually everything we’d ever come to assume about these five women was largely untrue? What if the degree to which they can even be called ‘prostitutes’ when considered within the context of their communities and the wider experience of the poor, working class woman is questionable? What if we learned that none of them were born in Whitechapel, or even in the East End, but ended up there after living full lives elsewhere? What if we learned that these women had been either wives or mothers or both? What would we think of ourselves and our society for never having questioned these things?

I asked myself this when I began to investigate their lives and have been continuously surprised, if not astonished by the answers I have started to uncover.

I’m thrilled to announce that THE FIVE: The Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Women will be my next nonfiction project. Further details of it can be read here. It promises to be the first full length, main stream book which examines the lives of the five canonical victims and their experiences. My hope is that after publication we’ll come to remember them as living, breathing human beings with unique, surprising and engaging life stories, rather than simply as victims.

Comments

  1. Steve Nokes

    Sounds a fascinating project and a reminder that history depends on the questions we ask even when the evidence hasn’t changed

  2. Neil RA Bell

    Hey,

    Neal Shelden has completed a book on the victims. Copies are rare to find but are also full of information.

  3. Pam Williford

    I’m curious about the book, ‘The Five’, and noticed the date this announcement was posted has been a year ago. Is this book in print yet? I’m fascinated with the focused light being shed on these five women instead of the perpetrator. We know the story of the historical period’s point of view. But the point of view of the women who were murdered is truly something I always wondered about. History is usually told to us by the Victor’s side, and never by a woman’s perspective. So it stands to reason that the murderer could very well be a man… or a woman! I’m so excited to read this book!!

    • Hallie Rubenhold

      Hi Pam, I’m pleased you’re eagerly looking forward to the book – I’m busy writing it – most good works on nonfiction subjects which utilise new material can’t be written in only a year! The research for this has been enormously time consuming as I’ve had to hunt down new material which hasn’t seen and go to archives and look at material that other researchers haven’t consulted. The book should be out at the end of next year. I’m also thrilled to be telling the story from the point of view of the women – most of whom lived into their 40s and none of whom came from the East End originally.

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