1911 on the Yorkshire Moors lies Sharston Asylum. Ella Fay finds her self a new patient after breaking a window at the mill where she worked. In the asylum the women and men are segregated except on a Friday night where they meet in the large ballroom to dance. Ella meets John, admitted to the asylum with melancholia, and they begin a relationship that transcends the walls of the asylum and breaks all the rules. A love develops that will change their lives, and the lives of others forever.
This is a beautifully written, poignant love story set in the beautiful landscape of Yorkshire. The setting of the asylum gives a lot of scope for a cast of interesting characters, and Anna Hope does not disappoint. Ella and John are very different in character but are boht a product of their upbringing. Ella broke a window so she could see the sky as she worked all day in a mill, she only remembers having the love of her mother. John lost his daughter which set him on a path of grief that ended in his incarceration. Unlike Ella he was brought up in Ireland on a farm, and is educated but there is much of his past he finds hard to recall. their reasons for being admitted, like many others seems strange to us today but in historical context this was a time where books were thought to corrupt women, and enjoyment of sex could also put you in an asylum. I think the most complex character was Dr Charles Fuller. He is the doctor who admitted Ella and at first seems to want to help the patients and hopefully enable them to be released back to society. However, after an illness we see a mania, he becomes mad himself, and his ideals change. There is a great supporting cast of characters; Clem who starved herself to stop her marriage, the ‘German’ with her ravings, the old lady with her imaginary baby and an old sailor, all add colour and context to the plot.
The plot deals with controversial concept of Euthagenics that was a popular thought in the early twentieth century. The Eugenics society believed in sterilising the poor an lower classes in an aim to eradicate those who were a drain on society. This bill as discussed in parliament but never passed.
This is a compelling read, if at times emotionally difficult at times. It is a beautiful and tender love story told with insight and sensitivity.