Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Summary: This was a detailed, engaging look at both the lives of these five women and the lives of the poor in Victorian England.
“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.” (source) Because of our focus on their murderer and due to the misconception that Jack the Ripper preyed on prostitutes, their true stories aren’t well known. Together, their stories give a fascinating overview of the lives of the poor and lower middle class in Victorian England.
This was such a well written and researched book! The author did an incredible job telling an engaging story despite the sparse historical record. She stated when the facts were uncertain and included in-text citations, which I loved. She also used general information, such as how workhouses functioned, to vividly imagine these women’s day-to-day lives. She’d clearly done her research about the places these women lived as well, and was able to describe them in great detail. The women’s specific stories gave me a connection to the general descriptions of life at this time. And the general information helped me understand these women’s lived experiences.
Unlike many books that describe multiple women, this book actually spent enough time with each woman that I really got to know them. I didn’t even have a hard time remembering who was who. At the end, the author included some thoughtful commentary on the way the media treats serial killers and their victims. I appreciated this, but I also liked that it was confined to an afterward instead of mixed in with the stories. The stories themselves were just so good, I was glad to focus on them. I’d most recommend this book for its powerful combination of general information and individual stories to bring both the time period and these women to life.