“Nell in Bridewell” is a translation of the german novel, Lenchen im Zuchthause (“Lenchen in Jail”). It is the story, in the form of fiction based on fact, of a young girl who experienced the horrors and indignities of a 19th Century House of Correction in Germany. This is often referred to as a “Victorian flagellation novel”. Although it’s title suggests that it is a study of corporal punishment in German prisons, it goes beyond the facts and delves into the minds of those who are doing the punishing and those who are being humiliated and punished. Publishers of these novels would often lessen their liability by representing their books as academic studies. Often they would go unnoticed by the larger community unaware of the erotic nature of such a book to a certain segment of the public.
In this book, Nell describes in graphic terms the merciless floggings she witnessed—of girls and young women, as well as of boys and men—and confesses to disturbingly confusing emotions that such sights occasioned in her. She recalls the lustful expressions on the faces of the onlookers, records the fervent words of gratitude to the skillful flogger from the lips of grand ladies who “were only to delighted to see such girls whipped”, and tells of the evidently sensual appetites such cruelties incited in the torturers. She re-lives in vivid detail the dreadful whipping she herself was subjected to—the so-called “Welcome”, a public flogging with a bull’s pizzle.