Showing posts with label Brenda Davies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brenda Davies. Show all posts

Monday, October 16, 2023

Book Review: The Girl Behind the Gates by Brenda Davies

Nora Jennings is a 17 year old in England during the 1930's which is a time of war and a time of mental asylums. While Nora is a privileged young lady, she is also found to be a "moral defective" and as such she is moved to an asylum. Based on a true story The Girl Behind the Gates is a harrowing, moving, and hopeful account of a young lady trying to survive her mental health treatment the best she can and the few people who are kind to her and help her stay alive.

photograph of the book cover for The Girl Behind the Gates


The Girl Behind the Gates by Brenda Davies

The book begins with the Author's note that ensured I would tear through this story in every free moment. The author is a medical practitioner, who came to work in the asylum when Nora had been held for decades. 

"Over the years I tried to encourage Nora to tell her story, but she always backed away from doing so. However, several times she asked me if I would write it for her. I always refused. Then following her death in 1995, one of her friends sent me a note and included a letter from Nora reminding me of her request. So, at long last, this is a true yet fictionalised account of Nora's story."

At 17, Nora made two life-changing decisions that began with falling in love. Those decisions were deemed by her parents, The local religious and governmental folks  in charge, and by the mental health practitioners of the day as morally defective. A person that needed to be kept out of the public in order to protect society. 

Little to no patient records were kept, many who worked in the asylum were abusive, and it was acceptable to slap a patient into line. It was extremely easy to find yourself placed in an asylum and impossible to find your way out while still alive. 

Some staff were kind, but those staff had little to no power in the hierarchy. Kind staff were reprimanded and/or did not remain employed at the facility. The treatments of the day included sedation, ice baths, removal of personal belongings, and electric shock therapy. Nora experienced all of those treatments.


Forty-two years later, in 1981, Dr. Janet is newly employed at the Hillinghurst Hospital and is working in the acute ward when she is directed to do a review of the patients on the back wards. Dr. Janet begins with reviewing the files before entering the back wards and meeting the staff and patients.

"She's been at it for hours and feels pretty over-whelmed. No real patient notes, just individual sentences, often separated by bald patches where nothing at all was recorded, as though the patient simply stopped existing for months at a time."

It is in those back wards that she meets the woman who has been kept there since age 17. A woman who has learned to survive the abuse, neglect, and psychological trauma. A woman who inspires Dr. Janet to re-examine her own life and eventually write a book to tell the story.

A Personal Note

Having worked in mental health for decades, this story was profoundly meaningful to me. Dr. Janet's thoughts and approaches rang true. So many "patients" (then and now) have exceedingly important stories to be told yet go unheard due to the issues of confidentiality, difficulty with timelines, and hazy details. Yet, they are stories that should be shared. 

I am thankful that Brenda Davies found a way to share this story to not only educate about the common treatments used decades ago but also the personal story of a woman who survived it all. 

Nora Jennings survived. But how? And did she thrive or remain merely the shell of a person? You'll have to read the story to find out.





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Review This is Dedicated to the
Memory of Our Beloved Friend and Fellow Contributor

Susan DeppnerSusan Deppner


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