“It is absolutely absurd, it’s offensive and it’s laughable.”
Given the reams of books, TV shows and films that exist about Jack the Ripper, how many of his victims can you confidently name?
The answer, we suspect, is not many. That’s because for a long time the women killed by the Ripper — Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane — have been dismissed because they were all thought to be prostitutes, or just completely ignored in favour of focusing on the man who took their lives.
It’s not unusual for victims to be forgotten. Our fascination with true crime means we often focus more on the perpetrator rather than the victim or victims, such as with Ted Bundy.
But in the case of Jack the Ripper, historian Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five has changed the game. It’s an intimate look at the lives the five women led, from the moment of their birth through to just before they were killed, and it debunks both the myth that all of the women were prostitutes and, more importantly, the idea that even if they were, these women still deserve to be remembered.
But that has angered some people, according to Rubenhold, who revealed at an appearance at the Hay Festival that she has been the victim of constant trolling because of the book, and had even been compared to Holocaust denier David Irving.
“I knew it was going to be controversial,” she told the festival, reported the Guardian. “I had no idea how controversial. There are people out there who feel they have ownership of these women’s stories and there is an orthodoxy.
“If you question those ‘facts’, then God have mercy on you. The response I’ve had to this has been unbelievable.”
Rubenhold said that she had been accused of trying to make Jack the Ripper work for the #MeToo age, even though she started writing the book before the movement started. There’s also the fact that Jack the Ripper committed crimes more than 100 years, well before #MeToo existed in its current form.
And she’d been accused of having a cynical, feminist agenda for writing the book.
“It is absolutely absurd, it’s offensive and it’s laughable,” she said.
We’d agree with all of those — it’s absurd, offensive and laughable that trolls are het up about five women whose lives were stolen and who were treated appallingly after their deaths.
Rubenhold’s book shines a much-needed light on the victims of a man who has fascinated people for generations. It’s time to stop focusing on the killer, and start remembering Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane.
Image: Morgan Williams/Hay Festival