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.