Bookish Discussions

The Five // A New Favourite Non-Fiction

I’ve been desperate to read The Five by Hallie Rubenhold since its release in early 2019. I had to wait a whole year for the paperback. I consumed it all as soon as I got it; I was that impatient.C709A50A-8037-4965-8F51-17FC5FA3BB4C

The Five is different to the other non-fiction books on Jack the Ripper. Rubenhold isn’t interested in trying to understand the motives behind these gruesome murders, nor is she interested in trying to uncover the true identity of the Ripper. She is interested in the victims; she gives us a timeline of their lives, starting with childhood through to their life in London.

Rubenhold wants these women to be remembered.

I love that Rubenhold didn’t romanticise the murders. We seem to have an odd, voyeuristic obsession with the tiny details of a murder: how did they die? What did their body look like when it was found? What was the murder weapon? Dead bodies become something to probe and scrutinize. The Five didn’t actually discuss the women’s deaths – it was a passing comment. Rubenhold humanises these women, who were much more than just “victims”, by giving us a historical timeline of their lives. We get to know them on a personal level.

By focusing on just the women, and by rarely even mentioning the Ripper, and I mean rarely, Rubenhold questions why we, as the modern world, romanticise Jack the Ripper instead of acknowledging him as a murderous misogynist. We have moulded him into some sort of legend – the uncaught killer – who is remembered in history and, at time, is celebrated (or so it seems?). As a result, we leave his five victims to be forgotten about – at most, being remembered as nothing more than “prostitutes”.

Prostitution is yet another thing Rubenhold tackles. She challenges the notion that Jack the Ripper was a “killer of prostitutes”. We don’t actually know the profession of at least THREE of these women. There is no concrete evidence to suggest they were prostitutes, but it was easy for the court to label them this. As a prostitute, a destitute woman, they forfit any right to a proper investigation. They brought it on themselves, and all that other misogynistic crap.

These five women were grossly murdered, and their deaths were grossly mishandled by both the police and the court. There was no care in the investigation, and there no care in the welfare of other women wandering the streets at night. Why were destitute women, homeless and those who sold their bodies, not protected by the police when they knew a killer was on the loose in Whitechapel? Women’s lives seemingly don’t matter in Victorian London.

This book makes me angry.

Not at Rubenhold, but at Victorian society for letting their backwards views and irrational hatred of women get in the way. The Five not only explores the lives of these women, but how they came to be in London and how the city functioned on the exploitation of the working-class. If this class was treated better, and if women were seen as real people with real needs, all five of these women wouldn’t have been in this situation. They might have lived.

The Five was addictive, intense and beautifully told. It gives these five women a story, a voice, which have been withheld since their murders, over 130 years ago.

Have you read The Five? It’s definitely one of my new favourite non-fiction books, and will most likely make the list for my top 10 books of 2020!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

2 thoughts on “The Five // A New Favourite Non-Fiction

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