Jane Elliott : The Little Prisoner

Book Review by Wanda Gibson

The Little Prisoner by Jane Elliot is a difficult book to categorise, although it is clearly intended as an autobiographical account of abuse in childhood.

Jane Elliott recounts a tale of abuse at the hands of a sadistic step-father and completely ineffectual mother. She and her brother were placed into care on a number of occasions when her parents’ marriage failed. When she was four years old, her life changed. Jane was returned to her mother whilst her brother was never heard of again. When some of the social workers heard that she had been returned to her mother’s care, they apparently resigned in protest.

Jane’s mother began a long-term relationship with a man called Richard who turned out to be a most sadistic and calculating perpetrator. Her account is rather disjointed as most autobiographical memoirs of abuse are. Her mother and stepfather produced three other half-siblings who were all encouraged to use torture and punitive measures against her.

Some of the incidents she recounts are shocking in their primitive simplicity. The story takes a different turn as Jane approaches adulthood. Despite her years, she was still trapped by the demands of the stepfather and his violent bullying tactics. No one, including those with authority – and even the police, had the courage to stand up to him.

Her story is told in a matter of fact manner which makes it all the more devastating as a result. The final chapters describe the court case as she prosecutes her stepfather and her mother. The extended family have been mobilised to beat or kill in order to protect the stepfather. Even after he was found guilty and imprisoned, their pursuit of her didn’t stop until she was beaten almost senseless.

I think the most frustrating aspect of this story is not necessarily the realistic accounts of abuse and torture, but the lack of belief and motivation to protect her on the part of ordinary men and women, including those who should have known better. There are several examples where patronising, self-righteous individuals created more damage and chaos by simply not believing that human beings could behave in this way towards others.

My concern is that some people will pick up this book anticipating a sorrowful journey through a mildly abusive childhood where everything comes right in the end. This is not the case with this book. There is no really happy ending. There is no apology from the abuser. There is no acknowledgement from those who should have protected her that Jane was right. There is, however, the recognition by Jane that she did the right thing, even though the cost was high.

As Jane Elliott herself said, “I suspect that the audiences for books like The Little Prisoner fall into two categories. Firstly, there are those who come from stable, happy homes, who can’t understand how anyone can abuse a child, and want to find out about a world they can barely imagine. Secondly, there are those who suffered something similar themselves and find some comfort in discovering they are not alone in the world. They get some inspiration from discovering that not only is it possible to go on to lead happy and normal lives, but that you can actually turn all that misery into something positive.”

This book is not for everyone. It makes for uncomfortable reading, but the flat, sometimes disjointed style gives it the ring of truth, and there are times when we need to learn about the pain people have suffered, even if it is uncomfortable.

Elliott, J. (2005)The Little Prisoner Harper Element



28 thoughts on “Jane Elliott : The Little Prisoner”

  1. I have just finished reading Jane’s book and i cried so much, it is so heartbreaking.

    I would love to meet Jane in person because she is so amazing, so strong willed, people will learn alot from Jane.

    Richard done so much to her and she put up with her for so long – it’s just terrible, people like that shouldn’t just be put away, they should be tortured just like they tortured their victims.

    Jasmine Bailey

  2. after reading the little prisoner, i must admit that i felt her emotions and came to be more aware that even the closet people can torment and keep one silent for years. Jane is an indeed a role model for all females.

  3. I have read janes book about fives times because i am so amazed at how she coped with it all and people will learn alot from what she has been through and i would just like to say youre book is the best one i have read yet and i read 2 books a week.i would just like to know if you jane youreself would send me a letter my mum would go crazy if we got a letter from you my mum cried when she read youre book.


    thank you soooo mutch if we do recieve a letter from you and we would reply if you left us a address to sent it back to.

  4. I have just read The Little Prisoner and picked it up perchance looking for something to read whilst soaking in the bath. As soon as I read the first page I felt my chest freeze up as I realised what I was about to read. I felt that despite having read other people’s account of childhood abuse before perhaps another tale of the unthinkable was not what I wanted to read. Needless to say I read the book from start to finish last night, as I know and every reader of Jane’s book knows that everyone deserves the chance to speak out and be listened to. It hurt me to think that a child could be subjected to such cruelty in every way, and it has really readjusted my perspective of my own upbringing which I have sometimes thought of as being somewhat punitory.

    Once I finished reading Jane’s book I stood at the end of my daughter’s bed and watched her sleep, knowing her only fear at night is if her teddy falls on the floor.

    To be honest, I am not really sure how to end this message but I think that is the point of Jane’s account. It is just incomprehensible how someone could do this and be protected by so many.

  5. this bookis amazing and really sad i can not believe she survived all this. i in diying to contact her to tell her that im really proud of her.

  6. RIA-I haven’t read the whole book but i can tell Jane has put up with a lot from that man, she is strong-will, and her mind must be strong to know that your family is against you. her boyfriend was so kind to her!!!
    MELIS- I haven’t read the whole story but i have read the abusing bits. When i first got told that she got torchoured i was unable to believe it unless i read the book but i believe that she is a very strong woman.

  7. I starting reading The Little Prisoner yesterday evening, read it through to the end and didn’t put it down once.

    Jane is an inspiring individual. Selfless, strong, courageous and a true role model to all of us. I wish for her that this had never had to have been written in the first place. She has proved that even in our darkest hours there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I wish Jane, her husband and children all the happiness and love for the future.

    As for the family of delinquents, they are the kind of people that drag society down. How anyone can back an abusive, violent pedophile is beyond reason or logic. I sincerely hope that Richard and his band of misfits rot in hell.

  8. i have just finsihed reading the book and have been stuck to it since 1 april . i even took it to school because i just couldnt put it down, this lead to crying in class and becoming upset and being grateful for the life i have.

    i would love to meet jane herself as she is a very brave and such a good role model for those whom need her, she has a strong heart and is very emotional and serious with her life

    loved the book, deffinitly recomended!


  9. I have just finished reading the little prisoner for the second time. My heart really bleeds for Jane, that she couldn’t lead a normal life because of her stepfathers prevention to do so. I had tears in my eyes when I finished the book because I could almost feel the joy of Jane when Richard was found guilty. I hope that Jane reads all of the messages left here so that she can see that she is a brave person and we all admire that.

    I defiantly recommend this book.

    Kate Ball

  10. I have just finished reading the little Prinsoner. i could not put this book down how anyone can be so vicius and abusive towards children is beyong me. you have come out the otherside can only be described as a miracle. I only wish the rest of the family leave you alone and you have recovered from your beating. Yes you were right in speaking out. I am 56 and only just got over my, what i call mental abuse in my childhood. love to your husband Steve and your childrenxx

  11. I have just finished reading janes story and am so upset to think u had to go thru it. I would love to meet u as u r an inspiration. I look up to you and god bless you…

  12. I´ve been reading this book again and again.
    It´s terrible that those things happen to inoccent people like jane.
    I´m 16 now, and people may say that that´s a little young for reading a book like the little prisoner. It may be weird but I completely understand every single word she says.
    I´m dutch, and I don´t know much about abuse in our country, but even I know that it´s getting worse here.
    I read it in the papers, see it on the news, everywere.
    Everyone schould read your book jane, and realize about what they really should be worried about,
    Instead of a little fight with there parents about going out or somthing.
    I know what it is to feel pain, not in a way like jane did, but my parents have done some stupid things also. the didn´t hurt me, but the were using drugs since i was born, so I live with fosterparents. I think that that´s why I understans her so well.
    I´d love to meet her sometime. She´san amezing strong women.
    Good luck, and much love for you jane,
    I want you to know that i´m thinking about you.
    Take care…

  13. i read the book oh my god its soo sad becasue the mother was there but could’nt do anything about it. What really heart breaks me is that the man who was soposed to care for her and look after. that man is very dirty and sick mined .they should lock him up for life and throw away the key make him pay for all the stuff hes done.

    xxxx god bless jane and all her children :)

  14. i have read janes book and i think its excellent i was very into it all.
    i think it was very horrible what she went through in her childhood !
    she is a fantastic author and i found her book very interesting but also
    heaps upsetting.

    i hope things have gotten better for her in her lifetime, take care x

  15. Very Good biographical book

    i strongly believe that social services should be less ‘ chicken’ and be more prepared to stand up to suspicious characters and take action to prevent emotionally scaring happenings such as this. And that is coming from a 12 year old!

    Jane, even though i am young inexperienced and don’t know you as a person, I respect you with all my heart and think that by you having the courage to write this book, bearing the memories and emotional truma, you are a brave, unique person.

  16. this book is soo sad .. it’s inbeliveable what people can do , how can a human be so harsh ..=( ?
    btw does any1 know jane elliott’s e-mail address i really want to talk to her ..?..

    .x. sami .x.

  17. This book made me realise that i am living in an environment with my loved ones.I have my parents who fulfill my every desire.And i felt horrible reading about that girl jane who suffered so much.I got very angry reading the book about that Richard who i felt like murdering myself.
    Super book.!

  18. o.m.g i just read jane’s book and it is so sad! why was richard sent to jail though? why wasn’t he punished like he punished jane??
    he really should have went through a painful painful death!
    jane i admire you so much! you were so brave!
    i have realised that i am soooooo lucky! and from now on i will try to not be so greedy!xxx
    love you jane!xxx

  19. I am 14 year old i have just finished reading this book, richard deserved a lot more than 15 years like jane said he tortured her for 17 and he got away with 2 years it makes me angry he should have got life sentance.
    I also think you should make a FILM! for younger woman to understand

  20. I have just finished reading the book ‘Little Prisoner’. I am so overwhelmed and don’t know what to feel. Its a mixture of feelings, but mainly the feeling of triumph. I am sure that you would have touched not only mine, but so many other peoples lives. Your accounts of your life and detail to which you have gone through could not have been easy. It was so hard to find a forum for this book. Eventually I found this and thought it was the next best thing to you.

    It has given me courage to overcome some of the things from my own past, for that I am grateful for. Thank you Jane for sharing your story and touching so many peoples hearts. You must be a wonderful person, friend, mother and wife. I hope you are living only the best of what life has to offer you.

    Rose – All the way from Australia.

  21. Oh my goodness. Some of the parts are really unbearable to read, but i couldn’t put it down. I read it all in one day! i cried so much, and because i’m only 11, (i know im a little young to be reading it, but everyone says i act like im 20!), i felt really greatful for wot ive got. Jane you are absolutley amazing. Nobody should have to put up with what you did, and you were so brave. xx

  22. I am neat the end of ‘The little prisoner’ (its my 1st time reaing it) and i couldn’t believe a man could so creul like that, Jane you were so brave to stand up to him like you did
    When i read the Little Prisoner I cried and was constantly upset it was just so upsetting usually i took it to school so which meant tears in school. Ijust couldn’t believe that thi happened for 17 years

    Jane you should be proud of yourself you did the right thing
    (I’m 14)

  23. The story is horrifying.. Some parts was really unbearable to read, but it got my attention, I read it in two days, I woke up at 6 o`clock in the morning so that I could finish the book.. I feel very sorry for Jane, and I can imagine how hard all of this was for her.
    I would live in fear all my life, knowing that he could come back for me. I think Jane is very brave.
    I am happy that she finally went against her stepdad. I imagine so much more families like Jane`s and I feel sick, if I would know a man like Richard I would kill him with no regret.

  24. this story is really touching and some kids moan because they cannot get want they want clearly this young lady has never faced a real childs life. I allmost cried when I read part of the book I could not believe she spoke up at age 21 and it went on for 17 years. I read the book in 12 hours because i just couldn’t help my self wondering how she would sort all this out.
    If richard was my step father he would have never seen daylight ever again in his life within 17 days not years.

  25. this is just the saddest storys ever jane you are a brave person coming to relize that you had to do the right thing to put him away and reliving all that while trying to put him a way courageous strong person

  26. I have read this books several times now and It has encouraged me to speak out about my abuse. I’m currently in my last year at university in performing arts and I have decided to do a play which represents physical and mental abuse. This is the closing point for me – I want to speak out and tell people of the events in my life I’m not ashamed I am who I am and it has made me a stronger person that I am today. Jane is a true hero n I cn see myself with her times are still hard and things will never leave you but it’s having loving family and friends around you to make every day count and worth living. Maybe after university I shall write a book and share my experience I just hope to help people so they can be helped before it happens to them.
    Thanks you

  27. Jane is an amazing person and an inspiration to all weather they have been through the same kind of thing or not I commend her for never grieving up

  28. Shocking and heartbreaking. It has taken me just 4hours to read your story. You are an inspiration. The treatment you received from your family at the renuion is disgusting… Try and take some solace in the fact that they will all BURN IN HELL!! Including that joke of a mother. Well done you!!!


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.