The Lazy Historian

Review: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
September 11, 2019

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I’m just going to say this right up front: The Five: The Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Women by Hallie Rubenhold is going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I got it from the library (I was the first in line to get it!) and I’ll probably purchase it just so I have it on my shelf, I loved it that much.

Finding details about the personal lives of royal women from the past is hard enough, so I can’t even imagine the amount of digging Rubenhold would have done to research and compile biographies of the five women now known as Jack the Ripper’s “canonical five.” Crafting these bits and pieces together into vivid stories really brought these women to life.

They weren’t just unfortunate victims. They were people with loved ones and friends and real lives. Driving this point home was one of Rubenhold’s goals with this book and she accomplishes it by leaps and bounds on every page.

This book is full of the “daily life” historical detail that I loveThe Five, without going into the bloody details featured in every other Jack the Ripper book on the market, also discusses the assumption that was made about the five at the time and has just been carried on for over 100 years:

There is no evidence that three of the five “canonical five” (Mary Ann Nichols, Catherine Eddowes, and Annie Chapman) were sex workers.

To the newspapers and police investigating the case, a poor woman who found herself sleeping on the street was obviously a “fallen woman” so they were reported as being such. Like so many others, I just assumed that was accurate but because of Rubenhold’s arguments, I can confidently say assuming they were sex workers was the wrong thing to do and likely hurt the original investigation.

I adore Rubenhold for withholding the gory details unless necessary and I respect her so much for leaving out details about the monster that brutally took the lives of these women. This book is long overdue and an incredibly important book for women’s history. For fans of Victorian England and Ripperology, it’s a must-read.

The Five doesn’t describe how they died. It describes how they lived. It’s exceptional.

RATING: 5/5 stars


Jillianne Hamilton is a history enthusiast, a hoarder of books, and the author of The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. Jill launched The Lazy Historian in 2015. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada’s beautiful east coast. Learn more.
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Hi, I'm Jillianne.

I'm a lover of history, a hoarder of books, and the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lazy Historian is a history blog featuring stories from the past with sass. With a focus on Western European and women's history, I delve into anything fascinating. Learn more.

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