Last month I was able to four books at one time, and as you might’ve seen in my review for Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, I mentioned that I really wanted to get into that spooky vibe that October always seems to bring and so this was a great addition to the lineup, although I did feel sad as I was finishing it but I will explain in detail later on the post.
For now, let’s move on to the blurb of the story.
Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
taken from Goodreads.
There were a number of things I actually liked about this book. The first has to be the introduction: the author gave you an idea of how the time of the Jack The Ripper killings, a year after the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1887. You have a great reference of showcasing the glamor and luxuries of the royals but the darkside of her people, the lives of the victims are less infamous as they were all assumed to be prostitutes, but here they are up front and you really get to see how much a person, whether they are male or female, had to live in that era.
My second is the question that I seemed to have while reading the beginning of each of the women’s lives, which was, “how did it go wrong?” and for most, they were addicted to alcohol. Apparently it was very easy to get a drink, whereas having the resources to find birth control was not, and at this point the two were mixed and unfortunately had sad consequences, like experiencing the heartbreak of multiple stillbirths and children born with disabilities. The main reason why many lives were consumed to the alcohol were because of the many tragedies that came into their homes, whether it was their parents, siblings, or their own children; a way of coping with the guilt or pain was to drink it all away.
However, the drawback of a person, especially a woman with a family of her own, depending on the drink to cope with life’s struggles made her into a “fallen woman” if she would rather rely on the thirst or be at the heart of her family, good wife to her husband. Unfortunately, if the husband and father was also using the same coping mechanism, he wouldn’t be judged the same way as his wife. He could be open to his vices, if he could still hold down a job and pay his rent to the landlords. However, if the drink became too much, it was most likely the wives would be cast out of the home rather than the husband. The double standards of the Victorian era reigned heavily over the lives in London.
I want to say, I have looked up the women before, but have never once focused my attention on who they were; the notion that all five were considered “whores” really set me off about them and when I decided to give this a go, I was more focused on the nature of ‘The Ripper’ even as I talked it over with my mom, but once I finished I quickly realized everything that happened was real. Since there are five victims, I ended up having favorites, which I felt horrible at the time (and honestly still do!) because I saw the same things happening over and over again but with a different name and social class. My three favorites were: Annie, Elisabeth and Catherine or Katie as she was called in the book.
If you haven’t read this book, you should definitely put it on your list, and despite the fact that Halloween is now over with, it doesn’t mean you need to wait because autumn in general puts me in the mood for these kinds of books anyway. Oh, and you can also read it for the rest of ‘Nonfiction November’ theme too!
Have you read this book before? If you have, what were your thoughts about it?