Books about ~ Asylums

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.  For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.

When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever.*

After finishing reading this book, and then the Author’s notes, I had to take a moment to compose my emotions. A well written, descriptive story so that the reader can imagine the opulence of the Ballroom at the heart of this institution, in itself, not austere, something that is surprising to both characters, and reader. For me, the notion of ‘madness’ during the early twentieth century, and those who got to decide who was mad is although not shocking, it is far removed from the system in place in English culture today. The government policy to not only back this up but also implement future acts on ‘degenerates’ was surprising to me, and something that I will be reading more about. The arrogance of middle-class men at this time, the gender divide and how that impacted on institutions, the swiftness with which one person may be condemned as ‘mad’, make this book an emotional journey. Carried along by the clutch of one small bubble of sensation, I read this book easily, albeit asking questions of myself along the way. Thought provoking, interesting, and several words that I had use the dictionary for, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale.

With the idea of time lost to insanity, hysteria, women’s troubles, false imprisonment, a husbands means of escape, and poverty, I am inspired to read other novels about Asylums. Here are my choices:

What she left behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Ten years ago, Izzy Stone’s mother fatally shot her father while he slept. Devastated by her mother’s apparent insanity, Izzy, now seventeen, refuses to visit her in prison. But her new foster parents, employees at a local museum, have enlisted Izzy’s help in cataloging items at a long-shuttered state asylum.*

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman.*

A small note on the amazingly beautiful book design of The Ballroom. The hardcover edition was first published in 2016 by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers. A 21st century blue cloth covered boards, gilt title on spine and yellow endpapers. With a dustjacket in matt navy blue with a patent filigree design with title in gold. Author name and illustrated swallows in white. A joy to hold, the paper is substantial and sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council, and is typeset in 11/15pt Palatine by Kestrel Data.


*Brief synopsis or teaser from




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