England

An Afterthought From European Travel For The Monstrous Gentlewoman

I had been excited for over a year to finally have a chance to read European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. And when it was finally in my possession, my paperback copy sat on my shelf, beckoning me to start reading as soon as I had the chance.

The members of the Athena Club—Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine—were all waiting for me to indulge in their latest adventure.

I was not disappointed. Theodora Goss has once again outdone herself.

I celebrated my birthday this year by reading this beauty.

I celebrated my birthday this year by reading this beauty.

Being twice the size of its predecessor, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, definitely means there’s twice the action. This plot is more complex but still transitions smoothly as the girls travel across the European continent in search of Lucinda Van Helsing—a young girl being subjected to experiments in biological transmutation, which is a common theme for the Athena Club. 

Our protagonists are the results of various alchemical experimentations conducted by their fathers—great scientists who believed that their work would create a higher man. You’ve heard of them before in the world of literature: the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Rappacini and his poisonous garden, the island of Moreau. And we all know of Frankenstein’s monster.

So of course the Athena Club was quick to run to the girl’s rescue and I wanted nothing more than to pack my bags and run with them.

This entire series so far brings scientific morality upfront and center—just because something can be done, should it? And to what end? 

Morality is a huge grey area for a society of prestigious scientists, the Société des Alchemistes, and the girls are intent on changing that. They know firsthand how inhumane a scientist’s methods can be in order to bring their aspirations to fruition. 

Theodora Goss sets future plot-points in motion well in advance for them to intersect naturally. And I absolutely love her method for foreshadowing. If you ever have a chance to read this series—which I highly recommend you do—pay close attention to the girls’ commentary throughout the narrative. I found myself stumbling across events that the girls had already discussed in the previous book.

My only nitpick about this novel is that Goss often relies on acts of generosity to assist the girls’ adventures, and while everything fits together seamlessly, it would have been nice to see them progress more independently like the strong women they have already proven themselves to be. 

Goss has created a lot of depth within these pages, and reading them was a very contemplative experience for me. Without realizing it, I had dived into much-needed conversations with myself that I had been completely avoiding.

So I want to bring up something important European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman addresses, and that’s how the people we know impact our lives.

Someone I used to know once told me:

“If you want to see how other people see you, look at who your friends are.”

Everyone you meet can create a change in you, and the company you keep reflects on who you are as an individual.

The girls of the Athena Club certainly learned a multitude of life lessons from their encounters, such as the lovely and feisty Irene Norton, snake-charming Zora, and the bold Carmilla Karnstein. And their interactions certainly presented character growth.

But what about the people you have no choice in knowing, such as your parents?

A significant part of the girls’ character arcs revolves around their fathers. Being the results of their experimentation, it is difficult for them to maintain normal lives. 

Books contain the most exciting adventures.

Books contain the most exciting adventures.

Beatrice cannot have direct physical contact without poisoning her loved ones, in fact, no one can be in the same room as her for any lengthy period of time. Justine has clear signs of PTSD as she struggles to adjust to her new life outside of solitude. Catherine was once a wild animal—a puma taken from the Andes—and although she was physically transformed into a human being, she still has much to learn about actually being human.

I think it’s safe to say that Diana is doing just fine, the little hellion that she is, although a little slip of foreshadowing on Goss’s part may herald a turning point for her.

But Mary, as our true window into the narrative, whose father left her at a young age and has strongly opposed to the girls calling themselves monsters, had believed that she was the sole member who had not been physically affected by alchemy. 

But the creeping thought would still sneak up on her:

What if there’s something I don’t know?

Spoiler Alert: her suspicion is correct. 

Mary’s mother, wanting a child more than anything, was barren. Dr. Jekyll, wanting to make his wife happy, slipped a concoction he designed into her tea that enabled her to conceive Mary. 

What exactly this concoction is and how it provided the desired result is up for speculation. Jekyll created it from his research on perfecting the human rationality, and that’s all the information the reader is given.

This concoction more than just produced Mary— it clearly had an impact on her development. She has never cried, blushed, or lashed out because she is unable to do or feel anything irrational or illogical. She was the perfect child who has now grown into Jekyll’s dream of a rational human being without her consciously doing so.

What would you think, how would you feel, to look back and realize that someone has had such an intricate impact in your development? Someone who wasn’t even there for most of your life?

Mary has taken it quite well so far, but it will be interesting to see if that holds up in the next book.

Think about your family, as well as anyone else you’ve ever known. What sort of impact have they had on you? Would you be the person you are today with or without them?


Want to join the Athena Club? You can buy The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and its sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, at Chapters and other bookstores in your area.

Please support your local independent bookstores whenever possible.


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

Ravenser Odd

Originally a Viking community of just a few scattered fishing huts, Ravenser Odd was a small town that existed off the coast of Yorkshire, England, centuries ago. It was often confused with Ravenser, a small settlement not too far up the coast, but Ravenser Odd certainly developed a more memorable reputation.

The town was built up and officially put on the maps in the 1230s, thanks to the efforts of William de Forz. Known as a “feudal adventurer of the worst type”, the third Earl of Abermarle saw the land’s lucrative potential and laid down the town’s foundations. 

Photo courtesy of Caroline Lundberg via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Caroline Lundberg via Flickr

Being perfectly positioned as the first visible land for voyagers entering the Humber, this was where thieves, vagabonds, and even pirates flocked to. In the early days of Ravenser Odd, most of these men worked for the Earl, sharing a portion of their swindled fortunes with him. They weren’t your typical raiders—these rapscallions had a system and it worked. 

The locals of Ravenser Odd would intersect ships en route to the mainland and persuade them to dock, often by threatening them with force should they not cooperate. Voyagers forced to bring their ships in were taxed for their goods and cargo, and merchants often found that there was profit to be had for doing business here.

So how did this morally questionable establishment get away with such coercion?

In 1298, Ravenser Odd petitioned for and was granted a royal charter by King Edward I, “Hammer of the Scots”. This charter not only gave the citizens control over their own governance, but the right to charge ships for entering their territory and extract these fees as they may. And it wasn’t a completely lawless town; it had its own justice system, complete with a prison system, gallows, and had a mayor to keep things from getting too out of control. 

The King had no issue turning a blind eye, either, as Ravenser Odd was a reliable contributor to his military campaigns.

And while swindling was their favourite pastime, it wasn’t their only form of entertainment; Ravenser Odd had a lively market, was a lucrative trading hub, and hosted an annual fair. So it was basically just like any other Yorkshire town of the era—except this one was run by criminals. And despite the illegal activity, it was truly a thriving port that did well for itself.

Unfortunately, Ravenser Odd’s days of revelry vanished into the sea. 

Since the town was not set on solid land, but rather a sandy island just off the tip of Spurn Point, rising sea-levels eroded the town’s foundations, causing it to collapse into the sea. Locals were quick to grab their treasures and run, looting every village they ventured through. 

The final blow was delivered by the “Grote Mandrenke” (meaning “the great drowning of men”), a massive storm that swept in from the Atlantic Ocean and poured down upon northwestern Europe. The unusually high tides swallowed up the town for good, and thus, Ravenser Odd was no more.

Image courtesy of The British Library via Flickr

Image courtesy of The British Library via Flickr


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

The Beggar's Drum

We’re turning back the clocks, fair readers, to the year 1661. In the southwestern reaches of England, you’ll find a town called Tedworth (now called Tidworth), where the following tale takes place.

John Mompesson was a lover of peace, quiet, and tranquillity. When he heard of a beggar named William Drury drumming in the streets without a licence, he pressed charges against him. Drury was taken to trial and had his drum taken away by the authorities, which was kept at Mompesson’s house for safekeeping. He would not see Drury after the trial; Mompesson left on a trip to London. There would no comforts found in his home upon return.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Since locking Drury’s drum away, Mompesson and his family often heard the sound of men pounding around their homestead at night. Yet every time he went to confront these hooligans, the sounds stopped, and no one could be found. Eventually, nightfall began to parade in more sinister, chilling noises. These would soon escalate and join together to imitate the hollow heartbeat of a drum.

Although the rhythm carried out each night, the drumming was no longer what disturbed Mompesson and his family. A Bible had been thrown into the fireplace, and invisible forces would follow and attack his children. Beastly panting was often felt in the hallways. One of Mompesson’s servants managed to communicate with one of the forces, asking it to bring him a wooden board he needed for repairs. The force complied.

Image courtesy of  Saducismus Triumphatus  (1681)

Image courtesy of Saducismus Triumphatus (1681)

Another servant—also named John—was a favourite target of torment: his bedsheets would be ripped from him at night, and wrestling matches often ensued. A priest was brought in for a consultation, but even he could not offer any solution or comfort. Any holy interference seemed to agitate the unseen and amplify the activity. Before long, the phenomenon had grown strong enough to manifest a voice of its own, but for the most part only chanted: “A witch, a witch! I am a witch!”

Townsfolk were completely aware of the commotion: neighbours and passersby could hear the steady beat as well. None of them were personally afflicted, so this was strictly a phenomenon to torment the Mompessons. However, those staying overnight on the Mompesson property would collect experiences of their own.

Reverend Joseph Glanvill, a renowned skeptic of the supernatural, was invited to stay the night and bear witness to the events that had occurred for over a year at this point. He, too, experienced the disembodied panting, objects that moved inexplicably, and the children’s suffering (for the forces loved to torment them the most). Glanvill concluded that the household was plagued by a demon or malevolent spirit—a conclusion Mompesson himself had already come to. Glanvill would be of no use to him.

Mompesson believed that Drury had died and that his experiences were because of a curse the beggar set upon him for having his drum taken away.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Drury was not dead though; in the summer of 1663 the very much still alive Drury had escaped from jail—where he was supposed to be serving time for theft charges—and bought himself another drum. While far from being dead he did, however, place the curse on Mompesson, bragging about it wherever he went.

Mompesson once again brought Drury to trial, where Drury openly admitted to using witchcraft to hex the Mompesson family. In an attempt to barter for his freedom, Drury promised to lift the curse. But his freedom was not in Mompesson’s hands: Drury was sentenced to the colonies for other crimes he had committed.

No one knows for sure what became of him though: ship captains were reluctant to transport him due to his “supernatural capabilities”. And the legends fall short for Mompesson as well—had he finally been relieved? Or had the rest of his days been marked by the beating of the drum? There are no conclusive endings to this tale; the true ending had long been dropped from the years.


So was this a case of actual witchcraft, or simply a legend created to add colour to Tidworth? Let us know what you think in the comments, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

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