Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

If you've ever heard the expression "life sucks, then you die"... read about life in late 1800s east london! what an uplifting book! be a woman, born poor, maybe your parents die and you're raised by various siblings or sent off to relatives, maybe you're just married off young and start having a lot of kids because there's no birth control. not even abstinence - your husband is allowed to beat you if you refuse his sexual advances. when you have babies they might survive, might not. husband cheats and you run out, or you're an alcoholic and get kicked out, and then your choice is to work 12 hours every day in a crappy factory or as a servant, either way you get no days off. so maybe freedom lures you out and you shift your time between sleeping on the streets or tolerating a workhouse during the cold months. everybody in the workhouse is sick and miserable and using the same barrel (that was the toilet yesterday) to bathe in after a week of doing the most boring work possible for a few bowls of rat-infested food. you might strike out and get a boyfriend who you stay with for a little, might not. then you get murdered. and everybody says you were "just a prostitute".

"The Five" goes into the background of the canonical five Jack The Ripper victims: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. Mary Jane Kelly was a prostitute, until she found a partner to form a long-term relationship with, but then he ran out of money and she had to go back. Elizabeth Stride was sent off as a teen to be a domestic servant and became pregnant out of wedlock, which police assumed must be her fault and she must be a prostitute. There isn't evidence linking the other women to prostitution, unless you use a very lose interpretation of the word, applying the label to a woman who has sex with a man who she can split rent with.

I would describe them as homeless women, that is the one thing that the first four had in common. They were sleeping on the streets. The murderer did not have sex with them, they did not scream out, there were not signs of struggles, they were just asleep. The book doesn't go into the murders themselves. Each life just ends, after all the struggles and broken relationships and family disappointments.

The author's goal is to dispel the myths and give voice to these victims by telling their stories. A lot of it is written in a tone of "she would have..." based on research done on the areas, traditions, and news of the times they lived. it explains a great deal about life in the time period, and will make you feel lucky to have a better life. But it might also make you think about the choices we still give to the working poor. When are we really helping, when are we more interested in judging, and how can we actually help them improve their lives? Or do we just write them off, like it feels like the world did with these women?
Tags: books
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