Social historian, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper is the first book to shine a light on the lives on the five women; Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly who were murdered by Jack the Ripper.
While there has been a lot of research channelled into finding out more about the mysterious figure of Jack the Ripper including, a tour of the London Dungeons and countless books and documentaries, very little research has gone into the lives of the women who became his unfortunate victims. When asked in an interview for Standard Issue Podcast why these women have been ignored for so long, Hallie Rubenhold explained, “it’s much more interesting to try to solve the mystery, and it’s something we’ve been obsessed with as a culture and as a society for 130 years.”
In fact, we know so little about them that in the same interview for Standard Issue, Rubenhold dispelled the myth surrounding the women’s history with sex work. All of these women are often described as prostitutes, however, Hallie explained, “There is virtually no evidence at all, to substantiate the claim that three of the five ever worked in prostitution at all.”
The author also added, “A prostitute was a woman who self-identified as a prostitute which is very interesting, you know, vis a vis how we regard sex workers today and you know this idea that you can’t just point a finger at a women and say ‘you’re a whore, therefore, you sell your body on the streets’, there also had to be someone who could attest to the fact that she was selling her body to them, selling sexual favours to them, none of these criteria could be applied to the victims of Jack the Ripper according to police regulations, apart from Mary Jane Kelly who self-identified as a sex worker.”
To rectify this lack of knowledge regarding the victims of Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold undertook the long overdue research into the backgrounds and biographies of the five women in the Jack the Ripper story that history often ignores, setting their stories straight once and for all. These women “are worth more to us than the empty human shells we have taken them for,” writes Rubenhold in The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.
Before the book even hits our bookshelves, The Five has also been. Optioned Mainstream Pictures who are producing a TV series adaptation, written by Gwyneth Hughes. Plus, the English National Opera are exploring the same story in Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, due to run from 30th March.
To finally find out the real lives of Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, read Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper published 28th February by Transworld.