Europe

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 Last Judgement of Kings

Previously on Voices In The Attic, I told the story of the Paris Catacombs, a great underground network of tunnels containing six million corpses, constructed in the late eighteenth century to remedy overcrowding in Paris’ cemeteries. This time, there is another story to be told concerning France in the eighteenth century. 

It is the summer of 1793, the first anniversary of the French Revolution, which overthrew and executed the reigning Bourbon monarch, King Louis XVI. The King has been dead for several months, and the Reign of Terror, led by Maximilien Robespierre, is just two months away. Yes, despite all the people who have gone under the National Razor, the worst is yet to come.

But the Revolution is more than just murder left, right and centre. It’s heinous acts of sacrilege, and destroying things—historically and culturally significant artefacts, buildings, anything and everything representing the Ancien Régime. Does this also include corpses, you ask? Well, yes, of course. This is eighteenth-century France.

So, this brings us to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, nine kilometres outside the city of Paris. It is in this cathedral that all the preceding French monarchs, save for three, are interred. This includes Clovis, first King of the Franks, who died in 511; Henry VI ‘the Great’, who died in 1610; Louis XIV ‘the Sun King’, who died in 1715; and his brother, Philippe Duc D’Orleans, founder of the royal house of Orleans.  In total, there are about thirty-six Kings, including an additional forty-six corpses belonging to former Queens, princesses, dukes and other members of the nobility. They lie beneath grand cadaver tombs, decorated by magnificent effigies of their likeness.

The Effigy of Clovis I.  Image courtesy of    Guilhem Vellut.

The Effigy of Clovis I. Image courtesy of Guilhem Vellut.

So, to the raging revolutionaries, the Basilica of Saint-Denis sounds like an excellent place to go, because they are running out of living nobles to decapitate, and the guillotine just won’t cut it anymore. With Christianity outlawed, the Basilica of Saint-Denis deconsecrated, and the Benedictine monks disbanded, the revolutionaries descend upon the royal crypt like vultures. The Convention calls this act ‘The Last Judgement of Kings’. If it sounds ominous, that’s because it is.

On August 10th, to celebrate the Festival of Reunion, they empty the tombs of the oldest dynasties—the Merovingians, the Carolingians, the Robertian, the Bosonids and the Capetians. Luckily, these bodies have had a good nine hundred years to decompose, so it’s mostly bones and ash left. Not too revolting, especially compared to everything else that has happened recently. They strip the lead lining from the coffins, so it can be recast and used elsewhere, before throwing the bones into a mass grave.

Then, in October, to celebrate the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette, the revolutionaries return to ransack the tombs belonging to the Houses of Valois and Bourbon. These ones, unlike their predecessors, contain the recent corpses, thus they are intact, they have flesh, and they smell.  The Bourbons, the house to which the last King belonged, are by far the most disgusting corpses. Onlookers describe “a malodorous black vapour that sickened workers”. This suggests to the revolutionaries that the corpses are morally tainted, as they were in life.

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Henry VI of House Valois, known to the people as “the Good King”, is, however, remarkably well preserved for a man who died two hundred years ago. He is so well preserved, in fact, that workers call it a miracle. They make a plaster cast of his face and prop his body up for display for a few days, much like a Saint.

Unfortunately, though Henry is well-liked by the workers and onlookers, that does not stop them from clipping his hair, taking his beard and pulling his teeth. One woman actually comes barrelling in, curses Henry’s corpse, then punches Henry in the face, sending the corpse crashing to the ground. So much for resting in peace, right? After that, Henry ends up in the Valois trench, alongside his infamous mother-in-law, Catherine De Medici.

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There is a bit of a mystery about Henry’s head, though, and whether it actually went into the trench with the rest of him. In 1817, an exhumation by the Bourbon Restoration finds the head missing. Another hundred years later, one Joseph Emile Bourdais buys a severed head for three francs, which he insists belongs to Henry. Exactly another hundred years later, the head resurfaces in an attic in Paris, belonging to a man who bought it in 1953. Who doesn't have a mummified head in their attic, right?

Scientists and anthropologists come to two entirely different conclusions: that it is and is not the head of Henry VI. To this day, there is something of a forensic dispute going on concerning this mysterious head. According to witnesses at the 1793 exhumations, Henry’s head is sawn open, and the brain removed, replaced with herbs.

Alexandre Lenoir testifies the following;

“The body of this prince [Henry IV] was so well preserved that the lines of his face were unchanged. He was laid down in the passage of low chapels, wrapped into his shroud, which was also preserved. Everybody could see him until Monday 14th in the morning; he was brought into the choir, at the bottom of the sanctuary’s steps, where he remained until 2 pm, and he was taken to the cemetery of de Valois, then into a large grave dug down on the right, on the North side. This cadaver, considered as a dry mummy, had a sawn skull, and contained, instead of the brain which had been removed, tow, oiled with a liquor made of herbs, which spread a strong smell, no one could stand.”

The mystery head, however, has a brain. Initial DNA testing doesn’t seem to render any definite answers either. For comparison, they use what is allegedly the blood of Henry’s great-great-great grandson, King Louis XVI, collected from the guillotine by a witness to his execution. But the samples don’t match. So the House of Bourbon arrives to help out. Prince Sixtus Henry of Bourbon-Parma and Prince João Maria of Orléans-Braganza add their samples, thus proving that the comparison blood does not belong to Louis XVI.

If you’d like to know more, there’s an academic article in the Journal of Forensic Research, authored by Doctor Riaud Xavier, Historian Delorme Philippe, and Lorin de la Grandmaison Geoffroy from the Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Raymond Poincaré Hospital.

Another body to be uncovered is that of Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turrene, remembered as one of the greatest generals in modern history. By this time, he’s been dead for about a hundred years, but, like the Good King, Turrene emerges intact and without odour, despite having been killed by a direct hit from a cannonball. The revolutionaries decide that Turrene is a worthy of the title of ‘grand homme’, so he manages to avoid most of the posthumous humiliation and desecration his crypt-mates endure.

Alexandre Lenoir, the archaeologist presiding over the exhumations, does detailed drawings of both the monuments and the bodies. The drawings are of corpses belonging to Turrene, Louis XIII, Henry VI and Louis XI, including the effigies of Henry II and Catherine De Medici.

Meanwhile, workers take off with souvenirs including Henry VI’s beard, Hugh Capet’s shoulder blade, Turrene’s finger, and a multitude of teeth and tufts of hair. Then, after the bodies been plundered, they all go into the trench and the workers pour quick lime over them so that they are utterly destroyed. Turrene is the only corpse from Saint-Denis to escape the ‘obliterating trench’. 

When the deed is done, Alexandre Lenoir returns to Paris with his drawings, having saved the scapula of King Hugh Capet, the femur of Charles V, the tibia of Charles VI, the vertebrae of Charles VII, one rib belonging to Philip IV and another belonging to Louis XII, the lower jaw of Catherine de Medici, and the tibia of Cardinal Retz. A few monuments and statues survive the symbolic decapitation too. Everything goes into the new Museum of French Monuments, founded by Lenoir himself.

The Bourbon dynasty returns to the throne again in 1814, under King Louis XVIII, the brother of the executed King. They immediately dig up the trenches, but there they mostly find scattered fragments of the bodies buried thirty years prior. It is a sad fate indeed for these poor cadavers, whose bodies were supposed to be laid to rest in peace, some of them children and babies. But, they are now together in a shared ossuary, marked by the surviving monuments, their names carved in marble, unforgotten, remaining forever in memory. May they finally find peace and dignity, once again.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

The Mystery of the Charfield Railway Children

“It’s like watching a train wreck” is a common expression used to refer to the way people can’t take their eyes off a horrible moment, can’t keep themselves from watching tragedy unfold. The details behind such situations hold a source of morbid fascination for many, despite the nightmares they create for those involved.

The Charfield Railway Disaster was a train crash that occurred on October 13th, 1928, in Charfield, Gloucestershire, in the UK. Three trains were involved in this crash: Two goods carrying trains, one of which was empty at the time, and a third train that was carrying both passengers and mail.

Photo courtesy of Ben Brooksbank via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Ben Brooksbank via Wikimedia Commons

Aboard the passenger train was conductor Henry Adlington, and fireman Frank Want. These men were the main parties investigated as potentially being responsible for the accident.

Just before the accident, Adlington’s train was on its way into the station, and the empty goods train was on its way out. The second goods train had stopped on the tracks, and was in the midst of being shunted onto the siding.

Henry Button, the signalman at the station, had put up the red signal that indicated for the passenger train to come to a halt in order to allow for the station employees to finish shunting the goods train from the tracks. However, due to foggy weather that morning, Adlington and Want misinterpreted the signal, and instead saw it as green. They continued through the tunnel in the station, slammed into the parked goods train, knocking that train off the track, and taking the second, empty goods train, with them as it attempted to pass through the tunnel in the other direction.

Due to the speed and force of the derailment, part of Adlington’s train broke free and was flung completely clear of the tracks, while the other part—including some of the passenger sections—telescoped, and got wedged up against the bridge.

Button was quick to call for help, only seconds after witnessing the crash, but because the crash was so violent even with his quick action, several victims didn’t make it. The victim count is a subject of debate: witness accounts say that 15 were killed and 23 were injured, but the official report states that 16 were killed, and 41 were injured.

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash

None of these details are terribly significant to the part of the story I wish to focus on today, however. What is important to note, is that due to the damage caused by the train crash and the ensuing fire, the victims that died were so unrecognizable to family members, that they could only be identified by their belongings. This being said, two victims—children—remain, to this day, unidentified.

Despite the fact that nobody ever came forward to claim the children, family members of the other victims had pooled funds and efforts, and erected a mass grave. They agreed to include the unidentified children.

The speculation surrounding these children is where this story veers towards the paranormal. There were many theories drummed up for the children at first, such as the thought that they may not be humans at all, but ventriloquist dummies, or that they were in fact small riding jockeys. Ultimately, though, it was concluded that they were children: likely a boy and a girl.

Despite them never being claimed, however, their graves were visited.

Photo courtesy of Lario Tus via Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Lario Tus via Shutterstock

Over the years, many reports were made of a woman dressed all in black, arriving at and leaving the grave site of the unknown children. She left them flowers at every visit, and visited fairly regularly. But then, she stopped coming, and no one has reported seeing her in decades. It’s believed that she’s dead now, as witnesses described her as an elderly woman at the time. No one ever knew who she was, though, or why she visited the children. Some speculated that she knew more about the accident than anyone else, and that she knew who the children were, but as no one ever spoke to her, nothing could ever be proven.

To make matters even stranger, there also exist many reports by those passing by the site of the trash, of two ghost children. It’s believed that these are the ghosts of the unidentified children who died in the crash, wandering around, waiting for someone to come back and claim them.

Unfortunately, a lot of things will likely remain forever unsolved about the nearly hundred-year-old accident. The woman in black and the children she visited were never identified, and on a more or less supernatural note, depending on what you choose to believe, no one ever figured out why Adlington and Want swore up and down that they saw a green light through the fog, instead of the red one that was proven to have been there.

Perhaps things are just meant to remain a mystery.


For more detailed information on the actual railway disaster, feel free to check out “Charfield Railway Disaster 1928”.


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

The Beast of Gévaudan

In a sleepy little town once known as Gévaudan*, between the years of 1764 and 1767, a series of chilling murders took place. Bodies were found in terrible conditions, with heads chewed off, and throats ripped out, all left in a bloody mess. Approximately one hundred people fell victim to this same murderer: the Beast of Gévaudan.

Photo courtesy of Viergacht via Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Viergacht via Pixabay

The exact origin of the legend of werewolves is hard to pin down. Many believe that it’s likely to be the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. It’s believed to be, in addition to the first werewolf story, the oldest surviving work of literature.

But the ancient Greeks had werewolf stories as well, such as the Legend of Lycaon, and of course, though the origin is hard to pin down, we all know the classic, Little Red Riding Hood.

The Beast of Gévaudan was something different though. It was a real life werewolf story, come to life straight off the pages. Or so it seemed.

The first official victim to be claimed by the Beast was a young girl named Jeanne Boulet. She was not the first to be attacked—there was another, unnamed, young girl before her, who was protected by the herd of cows she was tending— but she was the first to die. Boulet was 14 years old, and she was only the first of many that would soon come after her, almost all of them women and children.

Photo courtesy of pixundfertig via Pixabay

Photo courtesy of pixundfertig via Pixabay

Over the next few years, the number of victims steadily rose, and the Beast’s body count garnered national attention. At the time, France was just fresh out of the Seven Years War, and having suffered severe losses, they were looking for a way to redeem themselves in the newspapers, and in the eyes of the world. At the same time, François Morénas was an editor of a newspaper entitled Courrier D’Avignon, and it had profited quite well off of the coverage of the Seven Years War. After the war, circulation of his newspaper began to fade. While France was looking for a new cause, so was Morénas.

In fact, Morénas is often credited in history as the main source of coverage on the Beast of Gévaudan, and his newspaper was what really got the story circulating. Drawings were being done of the Beast, based on first hand accounts. It was often described as a combination of a wolf and a dog, but that it was about as big as a cow. It was described as having reddish coloured fur, with black streaks in it, and a very large mouth with oversized teeth.

The Beast of Gévaudan was more than just a story to be covered, though, and something needed to be done. More and more people were encountering this creature, and very few were living to tell the tale. That being said, the reason that drawings and descriptions of the Beast exist is because some people were lucky enough to survive their encounters.

One such person was Marie-Jeanne Valet. Once the problem the Beast posed became more nationally known, hunting parties started being formed. At first it was simply people within Gévaudan, the first being Jean-Baptiste Duhamel. He was an infantry captain who’d suffered a particularly humiliating loss in the Seven Years War, and in an effort to redeem himself, gathered an army of approximately 30,000 men to face the Beast. They were, however, much like in the war, unsuccessful.

King Louis XV then stepped in, and replaced Duhamel with a hunting party of his own choosing, which was headed by Jean-Charles D’Enneval, a famous wolf hunter from Paris. He was also unsuccessful though, and newspapers at the time speculated that it was in large part due to his refusal to work with the locals to solve the problem.

Statue of Marie-Jeanne Valet fighting the Beast; Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Marie-Jeanne Valet fighting the Beast; Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

This is where Marie-Jeanne Valet comes in. Much like the men that came before her, she was unsuccessful at slaying the beast, but she made it a step further than any of her male counterparts. She left her home and was heading towards a farm close by, when she turned around to find the Beast breathing down her neck. With some quick thinking, she immediately plunged a homemade spear she’d been carrying, into the Beast. Reportedly, it put a paw to where she’d struck it, cried out, and tumbled into the nearby river, allowing Valet to get away.

But this encounter immortalized Valet’s name in history, and she was henceforth known as “The Maiden of Gévaudan”. There are even pop culture references to her that make her out to be the slayer of the Beast, and in 1995, a statue of her fighting the Beast was erected in Auvers, in Southern France.

As people began to form armies and attempt to take down the Beast, a deeply unsettling fact that only served to drive their fights more, became apparent. Being that Gévaudan had lots of farmland, many people that encountered the Beast did so while tending to various animals, such as sheep or cows. However, one detail that all Beast encounters that also involved farm animals had in common was that the Beast paid no attention to the animals, and very clearly targeted the humans.

Artist’s rendering of the Beast based on eye-witness accounts; Drawing done by A.F. of Alençon

Artist’s rendering of the Beast based on eye-witness accounts; Drawing done by A.F. of Alençon

The problem many of these people that tried and failed to take down the Beast were encountering, was that bullets didn’t seem to affect it the same way they would an ordinary wolf or dog. Various armies that had formed had showered the Beast with bullets, and while many did find purchase, none ever succeeded in bringing the Beast’s death. This was where many of the legends and speculations about the Beast not being a normal wolf originated. Many began to theorize that it was something a touch more supernatural.

Nothing was ever proven, however, and the Beast was eventually killed in 1767 at Mont Mouchet, by Jean Chastel, a local farmer and inn-keeper. He melted down a religious amulet to make silver bullets, and that was what finally took the wolf down. Silver bullets, as I’m sure many are aware, are the well-known way legends suggest using to take down a werewolf, and perhaps this Beast of Gévaudan lent a bit to the origin of that belief. Regardless, whatever Chastel did, it worked, because after that, no one else was killed, and the Beast was never seen again.

Like with Marie-Jeanne Valet, monuments have been erected to honour Chastel, that can still be seen around France today.

It’s possible that the Beast was just a particularly large wolf, with a particularly large kill count, and that the story just grew way out of proportion because the people of France were looking for a win and a story in the post-war time they lived in. It’s also possible, I suppose, that the Beast was a real life werewolf we all grew up hearing legends about. Like I said, nothing was ever proven, and the problem was taken care of either way.

The answer will just have to remain up to your imagination.


*Gévaudan is now modern day Lozère in Southern France.


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

Chernobyl: Mini-Series Review

Accidents happen, history is full of them, but the question is: what happens in the aftermath?

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

At approximately 1:23 on the morning of April 26th, 1986, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. As was highlighted in the new mini-series Chernobyl, one of history’s worst nuclear disasters was not handled well. In fact, the poor handling was compounded by several fatal errors, made worse by the ineptitude of the Soviet government.

In its entirety, Chernobyl only runs for five episodes. But those five episodes give a detailed, harrowing look at the events leading up to and after the initial explosion. The problem is, calling it human error doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The majority of the series follows Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute. While he is initially brought in to advise Soviet politician Boris Shcherbina on how best to clean up the site and prevent further spread of lethal radiation, Legasov eventually becomes the driving force behind the investigation into what really happened that night in Reactor 4.

But Legasov isn’t alone. The morning following the explosion, Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist, discovers that the dust on her window in Minsk, 400 kilometres away from the reactor, is already intensely radioactive. Deducing that it must have been caused by one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant, she rushes there to join the clean up efforts, and aids in conducting her own investigations of what happened. Unlike many of the other characters in the series, Khomyuk’s character isn’t based on a real person, but instead comprises the efforts and work ethics of all the Soviet scientists who worked with Legasov and made sure that the errors made at Chernobyl would never be repeated.

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

The series begins with Legasov hiding tapes outside his home, which contained a complete account of the events leading up to the explosion. These tapes were damning for Anatoly Dyatlov, an engineer in Reactor 4, as they made clear he was a significant party responsible for what happened. After hiding the tapes, Legasov hangs himself, and the viewers are taken back two years and one minute. From their apartment, a good distance away, a firefighter and his wife watch in shock as Reactor 4 explodes.

As someone who has been endlessly fascinated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but understood very little of the mechanics behind it, this series was an excellent watch. I sound a bit cavalier when I phrase it like that, and I do mean it from a standpoint of morbid curiosity, but then isn’t that how most disasters work? After all, the expression “it’s like watching a train wreck” exists for a reason.

That being said, I think Chernobyl did an excellent job making viewers truly understand what happened. This was a truly terrible disaster, and in the end, it was something that could very easily have been avoided were it not for the sake of human arrogance and vicious denial. The series gave significant insight into what happened, including who was ultimately responsible, and how even with overwhelming evidence, the government and the KGB still tried to cover it up. It was a very entertaining series, but it was also informative.

History remembers the name Chernobyl, and even the name Pripyat, as being ghost towns, that to this day are still so radioactive they’re uninhabitable. What fewer people remember—what the series sheds light on—is the role that the government played in what happened, in addition to individual engineers, like Dyatlov.

For anyone who has yet to watch the series and wishes to (and those that don’t, I strongly encourage you to), I’ll refrain from detailing too much of the show, so you can experience it for yourself. That being said, I’d really like to impress upon those of you who’ve yet to see it how worth watching it is.

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

The level of arrogance from the government, the KGB, and other officials who were supposed to be in charge of civilian safety, that was presented in this show was infuriating, as evidenced by the amount of screaming at the TV myself and another of the Voices did while watching, however, it was true to life. The creators of the series went to great efforts to stick as closely to historical events as possible, and it worked out well.

Upon doing some further research into the series, I learned that it actually gathered much of its own research from a book written by Svetlana Alexievich, who gathered the stories from Pripyat locals that experienced the event directly. This makes many moments throughout the series even more chilling. One that stands out in particular is a scene wherein residents of Pripyat watched the reactor burn from a distance, while radioactive ash fell like snow upon their heads. They were aware it was ash, but horrifically unaware of the radioactivity, and so they danced and played in it, not realizing the clock counting down the end of all their lives had just started ticking

As I said, the truth of the matter is that history is full of accidents, some more or less intentional than others. The important part is what we learn from them, and that we do better going forward. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as illustrated in the TV series, was a chaotic mess, and by all means, should have been avoided. It provides a warning for what happens to those who put loyalty based upon arrogance and ignorance above common sense and common good.

Let’s just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.


There are two previously published posts on Voices in the Attic that relate to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: Frozen in Time and Open for Visitation and The Black Bird of Chernobyl. Check them out!


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

The Perils of Marriage

In black and white film, a house is devoured by flames as a car races down the road, drawn to the scene of the grand estate on fire. By Hitchcock’s direction servants rush along the lawn, looking upwards to the west wing of the house where a woman in black is visible standing by the window. The bed of the first Mrs. de Winter burns in her shadow, the final reach of the dead woman.

Originally a novel published in 1938, Alfred Hitchcock managed to transition Rebecca into an Academy Award winning film in 1940. Often hailed as the master of the suspense genre, he rose in popularity, allowing for his films to endure over the course of many decades. Newer remakes have helped to put his original work back into the spotlight, such as the television show Bates Motel which aired in 2013, launching attention back to the original masterpiece, Psycho.

His film history has lasted to this date, and it was because of Daphne du Maurier that he grew in talent, fully mastering his dramatic camera angles and rigid storyboard method.

Having begun her career as a writer with a series of short stories published throughout the 1920s, du Maurier was thrust into the literary spotlight with the release of Rebecca. Despite having languished while writing the novel as part of her three book deal, as well as trashing the first 15,000 words she had drafted, Rebecca had swiftly come to form after a Christmas spent far away from her own family and children. Having been inspired heavily by du Maurier’s own feelings of jealousy of her husband’s prior relationship, she managed to spin a complex gothic tale of a nameless girl, and a dead woman.

As a romantic psychological thriller, Rebecca told the story of a nameless protagonist and the whirlwind romance between her and Max de Winter, a rich widower. His first wife, Rebecca de Winter manages to extend her presence from beyond the watery grave, stirring strong emotions of jealousy and resentment. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine take on the roles of the newly married couple, swiftly unraveling over the course of the film and novel.

Hitchcock learned a valuable formula in crafting a classic gothic tale from du Maurier. A female, having arrived at a large English estate shrouded in mystery, struggling to create herself a new life are the bones of the many grim stories that came before.  One of the primary achievements of the film was masking the identity of the protagonist so thoroughly, that she often exists without any identity. Other characters talk around her, rarely ever confirming her marital name and status.

This was a massive success for the film, having had to adapt from the first person narrative where readers had the advantage of gaining insight from the narrator herself. By Hitchcock’s hand, the protagonist was reshaped and presented as a floundering girl, someone without any real identity that could contend with Rebecca’s.

From the 1940 film  Rebecca

From the 1940 film Rebecca

The setting of Rebecca allowed for the film to shine. As a grand estate alongside the coast, du Maurier had crafted a complex environment filled with rocky coves and hidden shipwrecks. Because of this diverse landscape, the film was allowed to be visually complex. The structure itself had been massive, looming over the characters. Often, the protagonist would be seen trembling her way through the long corridors and grand rooms, trying to find refuge.

Hitchcock managed to bring a dead woman back to life by scattering symbols of her throughout Manderley. Directed by the original novel, tokens of Rebecca de Winter’s life remain on display. Her embroidered initials stake her claim across the domestic realm of the estate, and it was by her own hand that she transitioned the small building by the cove into a place where she could freely engage in a sexual lifestyle with other men. Rebecca’s bedroom and morning room exist and function as an extension of her domain, allowing her world to remain present.

One of the highlights of the film was the clear representation of a toxic relationship. The protagonist visibly wilts, trying to win her husband’s affections. However, Max de Winter often rebukes her, heaping on criticism of her character and watching her spiral into a state of nervousness. As she attempts to change her appearance numerous times, it is never to his satisfaction. She cannot compete with the beauty of his former wife, and is trapped in a marriage without real love.

The turning point in their relationship is when Rebecca’s ship is recovered. Despite the careful transition of novel-to-film, the ending had to be altered to be approved by motion picture production code. In the original novel, Max de Winter admitted to murdering his wife by shooting her. In contrast, Hitchcock was forced to alter the scene to make it more tasteful by having him admit, in an emotional state, that it had been an accidental confrontation between the two that had led to her death.

The protagonist is able to swiftly take control of their marriage with this confession, delighted with the events that had transpired a year ago. Rebecca had been tarnished, and instead of a murdered victim, she became a hurdle for the two to overcome together. She argues that Rebecca de Winter’s death could be covered up, and that it would always be his voice against a dead woman.

From the 1940 film  Rebecca

From the 1940 film Rebecca

Perhaps the grim thrill of the protagonist throwing herself at Max de Winter’s defense is the real horror of the story. Despite Rebecca having been a murdered woman, the narrator is suddenly able to restore her own identity and take control of the situation, drowning the reality of the situation.

Hitchcock learned a valuable lesson from du Maurier. The grimness of humankind and the toxic relationship between the married couple represented the real peril of marriage; in losing one’s voice and becoming trapped into gendered roles of the time. She gave him incredible pacing building to the shocking truth to Rebecca de Winter’s death, and the transition of a struggling woman into a hardened soul, clinging to their relationship while denying another woman her voice.

However, perhaps the greatest element of Rebecca was the creation of Mrs. Danvers. With numerous descriptions of her ‘dead skull’s face’ in the novel, the film positioned her shrouded in dark shadows, a loathsome figure stalking the protagonist around Manderley.

Admittedly, Mrs. Danvers was the finest creation to be given to the gothic genre as a whole. As a classic element to the genre, her figure could be traced to other published work decades later. For example, her personality could be found in the sadistic cab driver from Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial, or Ruth Ware’s housekeeper in The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Never once a redeemable character, she morbidly obsesses over the life of her deceased mistress. Hitchcock was able to bring her to life, expertly framed in darkness, and let her menace her way about.

While Hitchcock could be said to be the master of suspense, I think it would be fair to claim Du Maurier the mistress of suspense.

While he has transitioned two other pieces of du Maurier’s to film, Rebecca was one he was forced by the studio to remain faithful to, despite the altering of the cold-blooded murder. The novel had been a gift, almost, to Hitchcock, despite his later complaints of the lack of humour the film contained. He was able to take the slow transition of a helpless woman into a hardened accomplice, and to the slow destruction of something grand and make it into something superior to many films of the time.


Has one of your favorite books been transitioned to the movie screen? Was it good? Terrible? Tell me your bookish plights below.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

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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