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The Mysteries of Verbena House; Or, Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving

A superb example of Victorian erotica focusing on sexual flagellation, The Mysteries of Verbena House, by Etonensis, was first published as two volumes in one in 1882. Only 150 copies were issued, probably by William Lazenby, at the price of four guineas. The first volume was issued in 1881 under the half-title: Birched for Thieving, or the Punishment of Miss Bellasis. The second volume and the full title appeared in 1882. As in most flagellant erotica, the plot is rather slim. Verbena House is a fashionable school for young ladies in Brighton. Miss Montes, a student from Cuba, is robbed of two golden doubloons. The nominal 'mystery' centres on the discovery of the culprit: Miss Catherine Bellasis, the beautiful sixteen year old daughter of a Chancery barrister. During the hunt for the stolen coins, a number of other offences are detected: Miss Hatherton possesses an obscene book, John Cleland's Fanny Hill, and Miss Hazeltine has hidden a bottle of gin. The girls are condemned to be flogged by the headmistress, Miss Sinclair. Volume I is taken up with the narration of these events. Volume II is primarily concerned with the castigation of the culprits. Up until the detection of her students' misdemeanours, Miss Sinclair, the headmistress, has been averse to corporal punishment. After deciding that the girls' are to be beaten, she seeks the advice of the school's spiritual advisor, the Reverend Arthur Calvedon, on the appropriate disciplinary procedure. A devotee of the rod, he becomes Miss Sinclair's lover. In the process, and during the course of the girls' chastisement, Miss Sinclair undergoes a remarkable conversion: she is transformed from a "maid-mistress" into a lewd votary, registering "a vow to become a fearless heroine of the birch, and make the sufferings of her pupils minister to her devices." The book's title hints at this lascivious metamorphosis: the psycho-spiritual transformation it represents is a deeper 'mystery' than the question of who stole Miss Montes' doubloons.
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About the Author

It is not known for sure who wrote The Mysteries of Verbena House. However, it is usually attributed to two authors. George Augustus Sala (1828-1895), a popular Victorian journalist, is credited with writing Volume One. Volume Two is attributed to James Campbell Reddie (1807-1878), an erotica author and collector.

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