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The Five Reviews

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five

The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Hallie Rubenhold

4.27 out of 5

9 reviews

Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publication date: 28 Feb 2019
ISBN: 9780857524485

Beautifully written and with the grip of a thriller, it will open your eyes and break your heart.' ERIN KELLY, Sunday Times bestselling author of He Said/She Said'How fitting that in the year when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, dignity is finally returned to these unfortunate women.' PROFESSOR DAME SUE BLACK

2 Prizes for The Five

The Wolfson History Prize
2020 Shortlist

The judges said: “A brilliantly original piece of moving, investigative detective work which revolutionises our view of one of the best-known episodes in modern British history.”

The Baillie Gifford Prize
2019 Winner

Stig Abell chair of the judges, said: “This book seemed to synthesise all that we were looking for in a winner, indeed in any great book: at a simple level, it was beautifully written and impressively researched; and more broadly it spoke with an urgency and passion to our own times. Brilliance meeting relevance. It is a book we would all give to a friend for Christmas, knowing that they will have finished it with pleasure by New Year's Day.”


4 stars out of 5
Eoin McNamee
17 Mar 2020

"Hallie Rubenhold does not idealise but exposes the hypocrisy at heart of story"

The society, politic, moral and physical textures of the time are skilfully researched and drawn, creating an outline of each woman which she then fleshes out from what we know about each. Alcohol is a factor in all cases, most of the women were in poor health, trading a quick grope for a glass of gin or a corner to sleep in. The Ripper was no cunning and demonic force of nature. His victims were infirm street sleepers, unconscious with drink and almost entirely helpless.

The real demon lies in hypocrisy, the streets and parks of London teeming with the well-to-do pack hunting women driven into prostitution; Victorian morality gone feral in the parklands of the city the real degeneracy, while genuine pathos resides inStride, howling in the slums, her brain rotted with neurosyphilis.

5 stars out of 5
Rachel Cooke
1 Dec 2019

"This devastatingly scrupulous account of Jack the Ripper’s victims exposes the misogyny at the heart of the myth"

Critics often describe books as “long overdue”, but few histories have arrived as late in the day as this one: you could fill a library with titles, serious and spurious, dedicated to so-called Ripperology, yet not one of them would cover this territory. Turning resolutely away from the theories, the gore and the prurience, Rubenhold’s achievement is two-fold. The Five is an immaculate work of social history, her accounts of Victorian workhouses, slums and brothels as vivid as any I’ve ever read. But it’s also a feminist act. Her simple care and exactitude in the matter of these women – her dogged refusal to accept that they were “only prostitutes” – restores their dignity and humanity, and in doing so exposes in the most powerful way the misogyny that has for so long been the repugnant, ever-whirring engine of the Ripper myth.

  • The Daily TelegraphBook of the Year
4 stars out of 5
Andrew Lycett
20 Nov 2019

"(a) humane and convincing book"

The police, the press and the public egged each other on in demonising these destitute females as prostitutes – a view that persists in the macabre myth of the Ripper, the crazed killer of sex workers.

Hallie Rubenhold argues in this humane and convincing book that this interpretation is wrong. Only one of these women was “on the game”; another had briefly been so in her youth, and a third may have occasionally indulged in paid sex to keep herself alive in desperately straitened circumstances... These stories are not unknown. But Rubenhold fleshes them out with details from court reports, workhouse records, and contemporary sociological studies by writers such as Henry Mayhew. She cleverly incorporates gobbets of social history – for example, on the workings of the Poor Law, or the use of the casual ward or spike in the workhouse – without interrupting her narrative flow.

5 stars out of 5
Sarah Ditum
21 Mar 2019

"an outstanding work of history-from-below"

What makes The Five an outstanding work of history-from-below, and Somebody’s Mother, Somebody’s Daughter an almost unbearable grind is wholly a matter of authorship. There is — depressingly — not as great a difference as you might expect between the life of a woman at the edge of society in the Victorian era and one in the 20th century. In both periods, the biographies are marked by male violence and alcohol abuse. In this context, the women’s final encounter with their killer often appears as less of an unforeseeable cataclysm, more just another incident in a catalogue of cruelty... Rubenhold, on the other hand, has a clear political angle, although she doesn’t make it explicit until near the end of the book. ‘A woman’s entire function was to support men,’ she writes of the Victorian social order; ‘the women at the bottom were driven like piles deeper and harder into the ground in order to bear the weight of everyone else’s demands.’ It’s a typically vivid image from a magnificently vivid book.

4 stars out of 5
21 Feb 2019

"a highly readable work of rigorous scholarship"

Many of the headlines thus far have focused on Rubenhold’s assertion that the women were asleep when they were murdered, but the book is so much more than this. It is a highly readable work of rigorous scholarship that plunges the reader into the claustrophobic world of late 19th-century London... The story of these five women – Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – is not one of death, but one of life, in all its sad, strange and saucy glory. 

  • The Sunday TimesOur Choice - Paperback
  • The Sunday TimesMust Read
4 stars out of 5
Daisy Goodwin
17 Feb 2019

"a poignant but absorbing exploration of the reality of working women’s lives in the late 19th century "

As Rubenhold makes clear in her vividly written, carefully researched chapters on each victim, it was a convenient fiction at the time to assume that these women were prostitutes... This book is a poignant but absorbing exploration of the reality of working women’s lives in the late 19th century — and how perilously easy it was for married women with children to find themselves reduced to seeking shelter in the dank courts and alleyways around Spitalfields, where the Ripper operated.

  • The TimesBook of the Year
4 stars out of 5
Gerard DeGroot
15 Feb 2019

"seeks to restore to these victims the dignity “brutally taken away”"

The Five is an attempt at rehabilitation...seeks to restore to these victims the dignity “brutally taken away”... While Rubenhold’s argument is credible, she does the victims no favour by telling their story in purple prose... Conjecture looms large in this book for the simple reason that, but for their murders, these women were members of the anonymous poor. Little is known about any of them... It occurred to me that these five lives would be better told as a novel... However, occasional uncertainty doesn’t alter an important general truth about these women. Their lives were precarious at the best of times...

4 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
14 Feb 2019

"Fascinating new book explores the little-known lives of those who died at the hands of the notorious serial killer"

Hallie Rubenhold, author of this powerful and brilliantly researched examination of Jack The Ripper’s five named victims — ‘prostitutes’ whose throats he slit in the nights of autumn 1888 in Whitechapel — certainly believes so.

Soon after the murders, a reader wrote to The Times observing that the Ripper ‘at all events has made his contribution towards solving the problem of clearing the East End of its vicious inhabitants’.

Even nowadays, we tend to brush such women aside. The judge in the 2008 Ipswich serial murders trial felt the need to instruct the jury to ‘lay aside their prejudices’ against the five victims who were prostitutes.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Frances Wilson
13 Feb 2019

"A landmark study calls time on the misogyny that fed the Jack the Ripper myth. Why has it taken 130 years for a book telling the stories of the women to appear?"

The Five is not simply about the women who were murdered in Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888: it is for them. This is a powerful and a shaming book, but most shameful of all is that it took 130 years to write.