Mysteries of the Verbena House

~ First published in 1881

The Mysteries of Verbena House; or, Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving by Etonensis is a Victorian spanking novel in two volumes. The first volume was originally published in 1881, probably by William Lazenby in London. The second edition (1882) included both volumes in one book. Only 150 copies were privately printed, at the price of four guineas.

The pen name Etonensis refers to a person who has attended Eton College, a British school famous for their use of the birch. The novel is usually attributed to two authors: Volume I is attributed to George Augustus Henry Sala (1828-1895), a journalist. Volume II is credited to James Campbell Reddie (1807-1878), an author and collector of erotica.

The novel is about Verbena House, a boarding school for young ladies in Brighton, England. One day two gold coins are stolen from one of the students. The 'mystery' is the search and discovery of the thief, the 16-year-old Miss Catherine Bellasis. She tries to frame a younger student, Lucy Summerfield, aggravating to her crime and punishment. During the hunt for the thief, a number of other offenses among the students are detected. All culprits receive corporal punishment of one sort or another on their bottoms.

Miss Sinclair, the headmistress, is originally opposed to corporal punishment. In the course of the events she changes her position more and more, aided by the flogging-experienced Reverend Arthur Calvedon. The two become lovers and Miss Sinclair transforms into a resolute proponent of the birch. Her transformation is, in a way, another 'mystery'. Verbena is a genus of herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants.

The novel was translated into French and published under the title Les Mystères de la Maison de la Verveine (1901) under the writer's pseudonym Jean de Villiot by Charles Carrington. This edition was illustrated by William Adolphe Lambrecht.

In 1904 the book was republished with title La Maison de la Verveine, this time with art from Martin van Maele and Emile Mas.

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Karen Smits

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