Nell in Bridewell

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Cover of the first English edition of Nell in Bridewell (1900).
A female prisoner being birched at Bridewell.

Nell in Bridewell, Description of the system of corporal punishment (flagellation) in the female prisons of south Germany up to the year 1848 by Wilhelm Reinhard (original title: Lenchen im Zuchthause), tells the story of a young woman who experienced the horrors and indignities of a 19th century House of Correction in Germany.

The novel was orignally published in German — Nell in Bridewell is the title of the english translation, by W.C. Costello and A.R. Allison. (A Bridewell, from the original "St. Bride's Hospital", was any woman's prison in English usage.) The original english-language publication was by the "Society of British Bibliophiles" (Charles Carrington) in Paris, dated 1900.

The first person narrator ("Nell" in the English translation) describes in very explicit terms the merciless beatings she witnesses — of girls and young women, as well as of boys and men. She also describes the confused emotions which such sights aroused in her. She recalls the lustful expressions on the faces of onlookers, records the strong words of gratitude to the skillful flogger from the lips of high-born ladies who “were only too delighted to see such girls whipped”, and tells of the apparently sensual appetites such cruelties brought out in the warders and floggers. In other words, the author describes what would later be called sadism. Lenchen/Nell recounts in vivid detail the dreadful whipping she herself was subjected to — the so-called “Welcome”, a public flogging with a bull’s pizzle.

Although Nell in Bridewell is a work of fiction, the scenes described are based on fact, and the book had some influence in the course of prison reform. In several of the later chapters, various characters lecture one another on methods of punishment used in America, in England, and in the home.

The book, and its classic illustrations, have been reprinted several times.

See also[edit]