Bad "Jungle Book" Covers

It's another Bad Book Covers! And today I fulfill my (long-standing) promise to look at some bad The Jungle Book covers. This post ended up being really difficult, because the vast majority of covers I found were beautifully and thoughtfully done.

I'm not going to bother recapping the whole of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894), because 1.) thanks to Disney, most of you are familiar with the basic premise, and 2.) because it's actually a collection of short stories about Mowgli, including the 1895 Second Jungle Book, and a few following tales.

One quick fun fact? The Jungle Book was written when Kipling lived in Vermont; I had no idea he lived there at all. As a native Vermonter, this thrills me.

We'll get straight

Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and Hyde, Pamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green Gables, Vanity Fair, Turn of the Screw, and She.

Usual disclaimers:

1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.

2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.

3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.

As usual, we'll start with some good covers. I won't narrate too much about these--I just thought they were lovely and interesting.

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Those are all really fun. Now we'll get to ones that make my head hurt.

There were a couple covers I found, which I shall call Awkward Times With Baloo.


"Great rehearsal, Baloo. We are totally going to kill at the school's talent show."


"We . . . we didn't plan this, Bagheera. We just fell in love. I'm sorry."


Then there is a category called Shenanigans with Shere Khan.







This photo was snapped just as Shere Khan heard the scariest part of Mowgli's campfire ghost story.


A literal cat fight.

Those wolves in the back are 100% holding Bagheera's earrings for him.


Shere Khan found out he wasn't invited to Mowgli's party

Now he's here, and he's pissed.


I once had a very interesting discussion over the new Jungle Book film, over whether it was white-washing or not to cast white actors to do the voice work for the CGI animals. Some of the points up for debate were 1.) if an actor is playing an animal, can that role be white-washed? and 2.) can you white-wash anything written by Kipling, who had rich, complicated, and largely problematic depictions of India and of empire? Can you white-wash something that is already British and Orientalist?

The debate brought up some really interesting perspectives and further questions, but I have discovered one trope that I think is, beyond all doubt, an example of white-washing: White Mowgli.


On the plus side, Karen Gillan's haircut for her role as Mowgli is super cute!


No one likes the post-transformation Beast. Not in 1991. Not now. And sure as hell not in The Jungle Book.


Last but not least, we have General WTF-ery.


"Are you honestly fucking riding me again? Can you at least put pants on this time?"


"You know what? Somehow the loin cloth only makes it more sordid. Get off me."


Mowgli and Bagheera sittin' in a tree


First comes abandonment

Then comes wholly unrealistic depictions of the vulnerability inside the animal kingdom due to a human desire to anthropormorphize

Then something something something BABY CARRIAGE



Is Mowgli wearing dungarees?


Shirley got REAL uninhibited riding that mechanical bull  at happy hour


That's it for me today! I have another few posts planned for the coming months, but suggestions are always welcome.

The Finger

Just a quick one today. I found this post on Futility Closet's blog here.


"Here are the Boston Beaneaters and the New York Giants on opening day 1886.

"Tempers must have been running high that day — pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn (back row, far left) is giving the finger to the cameraman, the first known photograph of the gesture."

Here is the photograph again, with the finger circled:


O is for Opium

I'm continuing my examination of major Victorian murder cases brought about by poisoning. A new one every Monday! These posts were inspired by Kathryn Harkup's book A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (2015), from which I am quoting below.

Today let's talk about opium.


When you think about drugs and the nineteenth century, most people would immediately think of opium and other derivatives from the poppy plant (laudanum, morphine, heroin, etc). It was pretty ubiquitous and used far too freely in over-the-counter medications and tonics.

Harkup writes, "The ease of obtaining morphine before 1920, and the fact that it was undetectable in cadavers until 1850, together with publicity from several high-profile cases undoubtedly means murderers have gone unpunished for their crimes" (187).

"The easy availability of morphine up until the early twentieth century meant that it was not an uncommon murder method, and scientists had to work hard to develop chemical test to identify poisons in cases of suspicious deaths.

"The real-life Buchanan case brought to light the problems of distinguishing between the different alkaloids that might be present in a body. In 1892, Dr Robert Buchanan was living in New York after divorcing his first wife, and he had taken up with Anna Sutherland, the madam of a brothel. Anna had amassed a huge fortune through her business, and Buchanan decided to marry her. Her fortune was clearly not enough for Buchanan, though, and he insured Anna's life for $50,000. When Anna died of a cerebral haemorrhage Buchanan was quick to collect the insurance money. He hurried back to his native Nova Scotia and remarried his first wife, just three weeks after Anna's death" (193).

Yep, this is a play straight out of The Bungling Murderer's Playbook.

FFS, guy.

Carlyle Harris, Buchanan's bungling brother-in-arms.

Carlyle Harris, Buchanan's bungling brother-in-arms.

"Buchanan had almost got away with murder, but friends of Anna were suspicious and thought Buchanan had poisoned her. Two years earlier, Buchanan had taken a particular interest in the case of Carlyle Harris, who had murdered his wife using an overdose of morphine. The authorities had been alerted to Carlyle's use of the poison by the appearance of Mrs Harris's eyes after death. The morphine had caused the pupils to contract to pinpoints; Carlyle Harris was subsequently found guilty of murder.

"Buchanan called Harris a 'bungling fool' and a 'stupid amateur' [takes one to know one, I guess], and pointed out to his friends that if Harris had used atropine eyedrops they would have counteracted the effect of morphine, and no one would have been suspicious. A nurse who attended Anna Sutherland during her final illness noticed Buchanan doing just that - putting drops into Anna's eyes when there was no obvious need to do so.

"Anna's body was exhumed, and a post-mortem determined that death was due to a lethal dose of morphine, but the jury needed to be convinced. To demonstrate to the jury the effect of atropine and morphine a cat was brought into the courtroom. Both drugs were administered to the cat to demonstrate the effects on its eyes. This was a straightforward demonstration when compared to the difficulties in proving that sufficient morphine had been administered to Anna to kill her.

"At the time there were a number of chemical reactions that could be carried out on suspect materials, and characteristic changes in colour would identify the presence of certain compounds. Buchanan's defence made a great show of the unreliability of these chemical colour tests. The best-known test for morphine at the time was the Pellagri test; the suspect substance was dissolved in concentrated hydrochloric acid, and a few drops of concentrated sulfuric acid were then added. Next, the resulting mixture was evaporated. A glowing red colour in the residue indicated the presence of morphine. By adding dilute hydrochloric acid, sodium carbonate and tincture of iodine . . . to the mixture, the glowing red was transformed into green.

"The Pellagri test, and many others, had been carefully carried out by Rudolph August Witthaus (1846-1915), a celebrated forensic chemist, in the Buchanan case. However, the defence produced another expert witness, Victor C. Vaughan, professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. Vaughan claimed that cadaveric alkaloids (alkaloids produced in animal bodies by the decay process) gave the same results as morphine. A series of chemical tests were performed in the court that claimed to show positive colour-test results from extracts obtained from a decayed dog's pancreas.

Victor C. Vaughan, a disgrace to laboratory regulations everywhere.

Victor C. Vaughan, a disgrace to laboratory regulations everywhere.

"A courtroom was not the ideal place to carry out complex chemical tests, and Vaughan skipped a few of the steps he claimed were not important to the final outcome. Test after test was carried out on test tubes containing morphine, and others containing cadaveric alkaloids. The colours Vaughan produced in his test tubes did not always match up to those stated in the textbooks; either way, the jury became baffled by the array of colours and descriptions of chemical processes. They were left with the impression that, even if the colours produced did not match the textbook descriptions, the same colours were produced by both morphine and cadaveric alkaloids, and the two compounds were essentially indistinguishable.

"Buchanan was convicted of the murder (and subsequently went to the electric chair), but this was based on other evidence brought against him. The scientific evidence appeared discredited, and newspapers rushed to publish the findings - the reliable Pellagri test was not so reliable after all.

"Though the tests performed by Vaughan for the jury did not stand up to the high level of standard procedures expected for such a serious crime as murder, the public's confidence in forensic science was badly shaken. . . . . Anna Sutherland had certainly died of morphine poisoning, but a simple and reliable test needed to be found that would convince a jury. After the trial, to reassert the importance and reliability of forensic science, tremendous effort went into establishing reliable, reproducible and unmistakable tests for poisonous compounds. A new level of rigour was brought to the science of forensics, and these processes continue to be tested, improved and replaced by ever more robust methods to this day" (193-95).

Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: The Man in the Iron Mask

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing The Man in the Iron Mask (1998). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty Victorian-inspired films with my good friend @VictorianMasculinity (whose blog can be found here) and we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

Here's the thing, though--this post is actually too long for livejournal to post. I've tried trimming it down considerably, but it never seems to be quite enough, and I don't know how many characters or images I'm over the limit. So instead of bowdlerizing my post, I'm just going to redirect you to my Wordpress sister-page here:


Henry Spencer Ashbee, Porn Bibliographer

I don't remember where I first heard about Henry Spencer Ashbee (1834-1900), but he was an avid collector of books (most avidly collecting works of Cervantes . . . and porn), and was part of a loose collective of writers and intellectuals who discussed and wrote about sexual matters frankly.

As a Victorian scholar, I hate the clinging stereotype that Victorians were sexually repressed--it's completely inaccurate. So let me underline here that the issue is not that people didn't know about sex, or kinks, or whatever. Nor is it accurate to say that the Victorians didn't talk about sex. Of course they did.

The issue was two-fold: 1.) there were different rules about what should or shouldn't be published or spoken about in public, and 2.) this is in part a very middle-class issue, which is where a lot of the moral outrage about sex comes from. Sex had to be framed in certain terms if you wanted to publish something about it for a middle-class audience, be it in a novel, or a newspaper article, or a "marriage guide". And some of the bawdier publications I've seen that catered either to the lower or upper classes were seen as proof of the moral degeneration of those classes.

The issue wasn't that Ashbee talked about sex. It's that he did so publicly and in print in certain ways that went against the grain.


Ashbee's collection of pornographic works numbered in the thousands, from a variety of countries. He wrote about sex under a few pseudonyms: "Fraxinus" (Ash), "Apis" (Bee), or sometimes combining them in the weird pig-Latin portmanteau, "Pisanus Fraxi".

When he died, he left his entire collection of books to the British Museum, but his will stipulated that the pornographic works must be accepted along with his other books. The British Museum really, really wanted Ashbee's collection of Cervantes literature, so they decided to accept.

According to Wikipedia, "The trustees were allowed to destroy any of the books if they had a duplicate, but in practice went much further and destroyed six boxes "of offensive matter which is of no value or interest" including cheaply produced Victorian erotica. The remainder of the works formed the core of the Private Case which were kept hidden from readers in the British Library for many years". Apparently they have, in recent years, largely disbanded the Private Case and dispersed the books amongst the normal collection.

The three most famous works of Ashbee's life were his bibliographies of erotic works. He first wrote the Index Librorum Prohibitorum: being Notes Bio- Biblio- Icono- graphical and Critical on Curious and Uncommon Books (1877).

Quite the title, which is an allusion to the Catholic Church's list of banned books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

His Index arranges pornographic works alphabetically by title.

He also wrote the Centuria Librorum Absconditorum (1879) and the Catena Librorum Tacendorum (1885), both of which have the same subtitle as his above Index. These two were arranged by subject matter. In particular, there are 300 pages in Centuria which are devoted specifically to anti-Catholic pornography.

Considering how much late eighteenth-/early nineteenth-century Gothic literature I've read (a great deal of which is very porn-y and extremely anti-Catholic), I am amazed there are only 300 pages for this one niche.

All of his books include not only the title and plot summary of each pornographic work that they catalogue, but they also include a great number of quotations from the text.

Ashbee is also suspected to be the author of My Secret Life, a lengthy sexual memoir of a Victorian gentleman. I have been meaning to read this book for about 5 years now, but I'm afraid it might actually kill me. Or I'll just end up duplicating the entire full text on my blog because I can't decide which bits to share with you.

If you would like to read his Index (and who in their right mind WOULDN'T?), it can be found digitized here.

According to Wikipedia, despite his own progressiveness regarding sexual matters, he was conservative in other areas of his life. "His family life grew unhappier as he aged. As he became more conservative, his family followed the progressive movement of the era. The 'excessive education' of his daughters irritated him, his Jewish wife's pro-suffragism infuriated him, and he became estranged from his socialist homosexual son, Charles. Henry and Elisabeth separated in 1893."

N is for Nicotine

I'm continuing my examination of major Victorian murder cases brought about by poisoning. A new one every Monday! These posts were inspired by Kathryn Harkup's book A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (2015), from which I am quoting below.

Today let's talk about nicotine.


Although the dangers of smoking and using chewing tobacco are well known in their own right, what is less well-known are the dangers of pure nicotine. As such, Harkup tells us, there have been relatively few murders involving nicotine and most nicotine poisonings are either accidental or self-inflicted:

"People have attempted suicide with nicotine patches, and several of them have required hospital treatment. An additional factor to consider is that the skin acts as a reservoir for nicotine, and it can continue to release it into the bloodstream hours after the patches have been removed. Serious poisoning incidents have occurred from the combined use of tobacco, nicotine  gum and nicotine patches" (164).

There is, however, "one famous case of murder by nicotine, dating from 1850. It is important, not only because it is an unusual choice of murder method, but also because it is the first case where scientific evidence was used to prove the presence of a plant-based poison in a corpse.

"In a courtroom in France a few years before the murder in question, a prosecuting lawyer who was unsuccessfully trying to prove a case of murder by morphine declared thus: 'Henceforth, let us tell would-be poisoners . . . use plant poisons. Fear nothing; your crime will go unpunished. There is no corpus delecti [physical evidence], for it cannot be found.'

Count Hippolyte Visart de Bocarme

Count Hippolyte Visart de Bocarme

"The fact that at that time nicotine was undetectable in a corpse may have been the reason why Count Hippolyte Visart de Bocarme chose it as his poison, but it was probably his arrogance that made him believe he would never be convicted.

"Count Bocarme had an extraordinary life to match his extraordinary name. He was born during a thunderstorm in 1818 on board a ship bound for Java, where his father had been appointed Governor. The Count spent his early years in Java before returning to Europe with his family. He was a badly behaved young man, known to be a swindler and womaniser. When he was 24 his father died, and Hippolyte inherited his father's title and the family estate, Chateau de Bitremount near Bury, Belgium.

Countess Lydie Bocarme

Countess Lydie Bocarme

"The inheritance was soon gone and, desperately short of money, the Count married Lydie Fougnies, the daughter of a retired grocer, believing her to be rich. Although she brought with her a small annual income, which more than doubled a few years later when her father died, it was nowhere near enough to support the excessive lifestyle the couple were leading. In order to fund the wild parties, extravagant hunts and their family of four children as well as a large household staff, they started selling off land.

"When this supply of cash ran out they started to look at Lydie's brother, Gustave Fougnies, in a new light. Gustave was unmarried, and had inherited the bulk of his father's fortune. He also suffered from poor health. In his will Gustave considerately left everything to his sister upon his death. The Count and his wife assumed that they wouldn't have long to wait until they inherited the cash, so they continued with their expensive lifestyle, and mortgaged everything they could to fund it.

"When Gustave announced he was getting married, the Count feared that his brother-in-law would change his will in favour of his new wife. He decided action was required before he lost the inheritance he felt he was due. By the beginning of 1850 Count Bocarme had developed an intense interest in chemistry, and started a correspondence with a professor of chemistry, using a false name. With the knowledge he gained from the professor the Count was successfully able to distil a quantity of pure nicotine from a large amount of tobacco leaves that he had purchased during the summer of 1850.

"On 20 November 1850, Gustave accepted an invitation to dinner at Chateau de Bitremont, during which he died. Only three people were present in the room at the time - Gustave, the Count and the Countess. The Count and Countess asserted the cause of death was 'apoplexy' (i.e. a haemorrhage) but the presence of bruising and scratches on Gustave's face indicated otherwise. Something had been forced into Gustave's mouth, and whatever it was had run down from the corner of his mouth, causing blistering to the skin" (166-67).

The Count force-feeding Gustave nicotine and vinegar.

The Count force-feeding Gustave nicotine and vinegar.

The behavior of the Count and Countess immediately after Gustave's death did nothing to reassure police that he had actually died of apoplexy.

"The Count tipped glass after glass of vinegar into Gustave's mouth. The body was also washed with vinegar, and Gustave's clothes were removed and taken to the laundry along with those of the Count and Countess from that evening. The Countess then busied herself with washing the floor in the dining room. Later, the Count applied himself to scraping the wooden floor of the dining room with a knife. The cleansing and tidying up continued until the afternoon of the following day, when the Count and Countess went to bed exhausted. Not surprisingly, the servants were very suspicious, and decided to call the authorities" (168).




"When a magistrate arrived the Count was reluctant to show him Gustave's body, and refused to pull the curtains back to allow him to see properly. He tried to shield Gustave's face with his hand but to no avail. It was apparent from the cuts and bruises that Gustave had not died a natural death.

Jean Servais Stas

Jean Servais Stas

"Further investigations revealed inflammation in Gustave's throat and stomach, and it was concluded that he had been forced to drink some kind of corrosive substance, such as sulfuric acid, and that had been what killed him. Tissue samples from Gustave's body were bottled in alcohol and hastily taken to the laboratory of Jean Stas (1813-1891), with the request that he try to identify what had been used to kill Gustave. Stas was the most famous chemist in Belgium, and world-renowned for his work on atomic weights; he had converted his whole house into a working laboratory for his experiments.

"A quick examination of the inflamed tissues in Gustave's mouth and throat convinced Stas that sulfuric acid had not been used. The damage from an acid would have been quite different. Like many other chemists at the time Stas made use of his sense of taste and smell in his experiments. He noted a taste of acetic acid in the remains, and the police explained how Bocarme had doused the body in vinegar (the principal component of which is acetic acid), and poured many glasses of the stuff down Gustave's throat. Acetic acid alone would not kill a man, so Stas suspected the vinegar had been used to disguise the presence of another poison.

"The eminent chemist worked night and day to extract whatever it might have been that killed Gustave. He added more alcohol to a portion of the remains, filtered it, added water and filtered it again. After evaporation off all the alcohol and  water Stas was left wit ha sticky residue, to which he added caustic potash (potassium hydroxide, KOH). For the briefest moment, Stas smelled the distinctive aroma of nicotine.

"Stas then spent three months developing a reliable method of extracting plan alkaloids from human tissue. The first step was to digest the tissues to release the alkaloid. This was done using acetic acid and alcohol. Gustave's murderer had already helped this process along by washing the body with vinegar, and the investigating authorities had helped Stas further by preserving the tissue samples in alcohol. The poison, now released from the tissues, would be dissolved in the alcohol.

"Stas reasoned that compounds within the body might be soluble in water or alcohol or neither, but not both. Nicotine (and other plan alkaloids), on the other hand, was soluble in both water and alcohol. By using a series of extractions with both these liquids, nicotine could be separated from the compounds normally found in the body. The final step was to wash the alcohol layer with portions of ether, and allow the ether to evaporate in a dish. What was left in the dish was a brownish residue with the unmistakable smell of nicotine.

"Next, Stas carried out an extensive series of chemical tests to prove beyond doubt that the substance he had isolated was nicotine. He then contacted the police and suggested they look for evidence that Bocarme had extracted nicotine from tobacco leaves. A thorough search was conducted at Chateau de Bitremont, and the chemical glassware that the Count had used was found hidden behind some wooden panelling, while in the garden they found the bodies of cats and other animals that Bocarme had tested his tobacco extracts on. The gardener also remembered that the Count had purchased a large quantity of tobacco leaves the previous summer; he had told the gardener he was making perfume.

"While the search of the chateau was going on Stas had continued his experiments, and he had extracted enough nicotine from Gustave's liver and tongue 'to kill several persons'. He also analysed clothing and wood shavings from the floor at Chateau de Bitremont to determine the presence of nicotine. In another experiment, Stas killed two dogs by administering nicotine by mouth. One dog then had quantities of vinegar poured down its throat, while the other dog received no treatment. Blackish burns appeared in the mouth of the dog that received no treatment but the acetic acid in the vinegar successfully neutralised the corrosive effects of nicotine in the other, and no signs of chemical injury appeared. Clearly the Count had learnt a lot about the chemistry of nicotine, and when Gustave put up a struggle, causing the nicotine to be splashed around, the Count did his best to conceal the evidence using vinegar.

"The case went to trial. The Count and Countess did their best to accuse each other of the crime, but the evidence was damning. Somewhat inexplicably, Countess Lydie Bocarme was found not guilty. Count Bocarme was sentenced to death by guillotine" (168-70).

Moustache Guards

The following story originally appeared in the Shields Daily Gazette, 7 June 1867.


"I was much struck the other day by a novel and important invention which I saw in a shop window. This was nothing more nor less than a set of tea-things specially adapted for the use of gentlemen who cultivate moustaches, the cups of which have a ban running across them of sufficient width to prevent the moustache from having a warm bath when its owner sips his tea and yet allowing free play to the lips, on one side of it, and the nose on the other.

"An invention pre-supposes a want. The love of tea taking so much the place of the love of wine that moustache that moustached heroes have been crying out for more comfort in the drinking of it? For some great genius of inventive power who will come forward and show them how to protect their well-beloved ornaments - how to keep them intact during the vicissitudes of a tea-fight, free from the forlorn and drowned appearance that they now present, after having gone through one of these mildest of actions . . . to such men a moustache-cup will offer a silent but unmistakeable [sic] hint, and society generally will feel the benefit of this advent of porcelain reformers".

It's Raining Men

I found this story on Mrs. Daffodil Digresses here. The original source was the Auckland [NZ] Star, 16 April 1926: p. 3.

"A fantastic 'Imperial secret' that had its inception on a New York farm, and its conclusion in the courts of the Romanoffs, was told on March 14 in New York after twenty years of silence by Edward Hatch, a New York merchant, former member of the firm of Lord and Taylor.

"In 1903 a New York newspaper published an account of the lamentable state of affairs on the Hatch farm near Brewster, New York State. Hatch’s story runs:

"Eighty-five per cent of all the animals born there were males, said the paper. Bulls that might have sold for thousands of dollars went to the butchers because the market was flooded. All the chickens were roosters. Even the turkeys and carrier pigeons suffered from the hoodoo. The house had seven kittens, and six were toms.

"A hired man and his wire on the farm had five sons. Even the corn would grow only on stubs, and scientists said it was male corn.

"Soon after this story was published, Hatch now said, a stranger questioned him about it at his store. He wanted an explanation. Hatch said he thought it might be the water, which analysis had shown contained much phosphorus and magnesium. The stranger then introduced himself as the Russian Consul. He wanted a sample of the water, and Hatch agreed.

"A few days later the stranger appeared on the farm with two uniformed attendants to get a keg of the water. Hatch sought an explanation. The only answer he could get was 'just an experiment.'

"A year later cable dispatches reported that a male heir had been born to the Imperial Russian throne. The preceding children of the Czar had been daughters."

M is for Monkshood

I'm continuing my examination of major Victorian murder cases brought about by poisoning. A new one every Monday! These posts were inspired by Kathryn Harkup's book A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (2015), from which I am quoting below.

Today let's talk about monkshood.


"Aconitum variegatum - monkshood - is considered to be the most poisonous plant in Europe; it has been called the 'Queen Mother of Poisons' . . . . The genus contains around 250 species, of which some of the common names include monkshood (named after the shape of its flowers), wolfsbane, leopard's bane and Devil's helmet" (142-43).

"The best-known case of aconitine poisoning . . . occurred in 1881 . . . . Dr George Henry Lamson was a medical doctor who volunteered as an army surgeon in Romania and Serbia. When he returned to England he set up a medical practice in Bournemouth, but he had acquired a morphine habit, perhaps as a result of his experiences of war. Initially Lamson prospered, but as his morphine addiction took over his life his practice floundered, and debts started to build up.

"Financial relief came in 1879 in the form of an inheritance. Lamson's wife, Kate, was one of four siblings who had equal shares of the inheritance from their parents. When Lamson's brother-in-law Herbert John died, his portion of the inheritance was redistributed amongst the three remaining siblings. However, Lamson's financial relief was short-lived, and his debts continued to grow.

Dr George Lamson

Dr George Lamson

"Lamson decided that the only way out of his financial difficulties was another inheritance, and he set his sights on Percy John, Kate's 18-year-old crippled brother. Percy had a curvature of the spine that had paralysed him from the waist down, though he had full use of his upper limbs and was in otherwise good health. Lamson made his first attempt on the boy's life in the summer of 1881. While on holiday on the Isle of Wight, Lamson gave Percy a pill that he dutifully swallowed. Soon afterwards he became very ill, but he made a complete recovery and returned to his boarding school in Wimbledon for the autumn term. Lamson's money worries were becoming acute, and he went to America to try to make his fortune but returned with his situation unimproved. While he was there, Lamson made a significant purchase; a type of gelatin capsule designed for taking powdered medication.

"On 24 November 1881, Lamson made another important shopping trip. He bought two grains of aconitine (approximately 130mg) from a pharmacist in London. Lamson was unknown to the pharmacist, but because he was a medical doctor he was able to purchase poisons without having to answer any awkward questions - the pharmacist simply asked for Dr Lamson's name and checked in the register of medical professionals. Finding everything in order he sold the aconitine to Lamson for 2s 9d.

"On 3 December, Lamson paid a visit to Percy at his school in Wimbledon. When he arrived he sat down to talk with Percy and the headmaster. Sherry was served, to which Lamson added a spoonful of sugar, claiming that it counteracted the effect of the alcohol. At some point during the visit Lamson produced a Dundee cake with three slices already cut and he proceeded to offer them to Percy and the headmaster. He took the last slice for himself.

"Conversation turned to Lamson's recent trip to America, and he produced some of the capsules he had bought there. He recommended the capsules to the headmaster as a means of giving bitter medications to the pupils so they wouldn't have to taste them. To demonstrate, he filled one of the capsules with sugar, from the same bowl he had used for his sherry, then pushed the two halves together. He gave the capsule to Percy, complimented him on being a champion pill-taker, and asked him to show the headmaster how easy it was to swallow these special pills. Percy did as he was told. Lamson then promptly made his excuses and left, saying he did not want to miss his train to catch the boat to France" (148-50).

Yeah, nothing at all suspicious about any of this. No way the headmaster will remember that the ill-fated Percy was given some weird pill immediately before he died by a man who then immediately fled the country.

"Within ten minutes of Lamson leaving, Percy became ill. He vomited and complained of stomach pains. He was carried up the stairs to his room by his friends. He said he felt the way he had after taking the pill Lamson had given him on holiday. His condition worsened, with his whole body convulsing so he had to be forcibly held down. Two doctors attended the boy. Both were baffled by Percy's symptoms, though there was no doubt he was in considerable pain . . . .  Percy died that night, after suffering four hours of torment.

"The doctors believed that the body had been poisoned with some kind of vegetable alkaloid. Suspicion fell on Lamson almost immediately, and the police began to search for him. Though he had successfully made it to France, Lamson voluntarily returned to England, and walked into a police station to help with their enquiries. He was promptly arrested for murder.

Dr Thomas Stevenson, poison sommelier.

Dr Thomas Stevenson, poison sommelier.

"A post-mortem examination of Percy's body had been ordered, but no obvious signs as to the cause of death could be detected. Dr Thomas Stevenson (1838-1908), an expert in alkaloid poisons, was brought in to examine the remains. He managed to extract a substance from Percy's organs, but there was no chemical test to identify aconitine (and there still isn't).

"Stevenson had to rely on his extensive knowledge of the taste of alkaloids. The doctor had a collection of 50 to 80 different alkaloids in his laboratory, and he could identify all of them by taste; his party trick was to identify a particular alkaloid by taste before his colleagues could complete the chemical test to confirm its identification. The taste and burning sensations of aconitine were, he claimed, unique. He proposed that as little as 1/60 grain of aconitine, which equates to approximatley 1mg, could prove fatal.

"Lamson was probably well aware that there was no known chemical test for aconitine, and he had chosen this poison deliberately . . . . Lamson's defence did their best to throw doubt on the scientific evidence, as so little was apparently known about aconitine poisoning.

"The pharmacist who sold the aconitine to Lamson had also come forward to testify. Despite keeping no record of the transaction (he was not required to by law) the sale was so unusual that it stuck in his mind, and when he later read about the poisoning case in a newspaper he contacted the police. Another damning piece of evidence was found in Lamson's notebook, where he had jotted down the symptoms of aconitine poisoning.

"To this day no one knows exactly how Lamson administered the poison, though it seems likely it was either in the pill or the cake. A lethal amount of aconitine could have been present in the pill capsule while still leaving plenty of room for it to be filled with sugar. An alternative theory, worthy of Dame Agatha herself, is that the poison was in a raisin in the slice of Dundee cake given to Percy. Despite not known precisely how he had carried out the crime, the jury took just 30 minutes to find Lamson guilty, and he was sentenced to death.

"Lamson's time in prison forcibly broke his morphine habit; perhaps his newly acquired lucidity made him realise the cruelty of his actions. Four days before he was executed he confessed to the murder of Percy John" (150-52).

Blanche d'Antigny

I've been reading this book lately called The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of Their Virtues (2001) by Susan Griffin, and through it I discovered the wonderful and weird life of nineteenth-century French courtesan Blanche d'Antigny.

Blanche is not what we would consider a great beauty by today's standards, but at the time she was thought to be so exceptionally beautiful that she sent men into "an almost orgiastic enthusiasm" (61) just by standing in front of them.

blanche1 blanche2

But we have to back way to the beginning to appreciate how wildly odd her journey to "courtesan" really was.

When Blanche (whose real name was Marie, by the way) was just seven years old, her father ran off with another woman and her mother dumped young Blanche with an aunt while she went looking for her no-good husband. Three years later, her mother had found work as a servant to the Marquise de Gallifet and collected her daughter from the aunt.

The Marquise must have taken a liking to either Blanche or her mother, because she sent Blanche off to a prestigious convent school to get an education and to mingle with the daughters of the wealthy. This not only taught Blanche refinement from her lower-class upbringing, but also introduced her to the splendors of the church.

Blanche, who was soon to be a famous courtesan, wanted nothing more than to be a nun.

However, her benefactress, the Marquise, died unexpectedly and the Blanche and her mother could no longer support themselves--let alone continue Blanche's school tuition. She was pulled from school to go to work as a salesgirl at a draper's shop. She worked twelve-hour days, despite only being about twelve or thirteen herself, and earned a pittance. The only time she could indulge in her love of religion was on Sundays, when she was permitted to attend church for two hours.

At age fourteen, she rather naively accompanied a young shop assistant to a party at the Closerie des Lilas. Blanche had never before been around such glittering decadence. That night she drank champagne, learned how to do "a particularly lusty execution of the cancan" (60), and was so enraptured by the party that she didn't even notice when her companion left.

She was seduced that night by a young Romanian, and then found herself a few weeks thereafter accompanying him to Bucharest. They lived together in a hotel for a short while, but it was all a bit sordid, so she decided to leave the relationship in favor of traveling and performing with a band of Romani gypsies.

She fell in love with their style of dance and music, but wasn't particularly well-treated by her traveling companions, and decided to leave them, too. So she became the mistress of a Romanian archbishop, before graduating to being the mistress of a Romanian prince.

As young women who aspire to be nuns do.

Y'all, fourteen was a BIG year for her.

Despite being the absolute butterfly of Romanian high society, Blanche got desperately homesick and went back to France. There she got work in a play and caused an absolute sensation. Was it due to her great acting? No. Because she was playing A STATUE of Helen of Troy. She didn't have to move, talk, or do anything except stand there and look hot.

(for those of you who have read Emile Zola's Nana, this is exactly what he bases Nana's work in the theatre on--and Zola never even knew Blanche in real life. That's how famous her non-speaking, non-moving part was).

Blanche was pure spectacle for the theatre. "In one production, Le Chateau a Toto, she entered the second act to the accompaniment of Offenbach's music wearing a dress that cost 15,000 francs (a small fortune in the nineteenth century); this creation was followed in the next act by a transparent peignoir trimmed with Belgian lace valued at 6,000 francs. In another performance she was so thickly covered in diamonds that one critic wrote: 'This is not an actress we see on the stage before us but a jewelry store.'

"The size of her personal wardrobe was legendary, too. The journalist Callias tells us that her departure for a tour to Baden caused a traffic jam when the thirty-seven coaches required to carry her dresses and hats obstructed the rue Ecuries-d'Artois" (63).

What's rather remarkable about Blanche--as opposed to the calculating Nana--is how innocent and naive she was. She started to learn that this was a real problem later on when she entertained gentlemen guests for money. After sex, she frequently fell into such a sound sleep that many of her customers slipped away without paying her. She sorted the problem by sewing her customer's nightshirts to her dressing gown.

She became, for many, the emblem of the excesses of the Second Empire. The artist Paul Baudry used her as his model for a painting of a repentant Magdalen, while (as stated above) Zola used her as the model for his cold-blooded Nana. However, Blanche was far too innocent to be either of these archetypes--she was neither a ambitious femme fatale, nor a sinner who repented of her wicked ways, largely because she enjoyed her life and never did anything that she thought merited repentance (unlike some courtesans who took pleasure in and built their reputations upon destroying their clientele's finances and spirits).

In the end, she fell in love with a man named Luce, who was a tenor at the Folies Dramatiques. Upon meeting Luce, Blanche immediately dumped her wealthy benefactor so she could be true and faithful to Luce, who was "short, round man, described by one observer as resembling a small ball" (64).

Their time together was brief--after only two years, Luce died of consumption, leaving Blanche grief-stricken and poor. She had spent all of her savings and cashed in on her jewelry and other mixed securities during the two years they were together. After his death, she resumed her position at the theatre, with some success.

But even that wasn't long-lived, since her mother died soon after. Then Blanche herself became seriously ill with a dangerous fever. A fellow courtesan, Caroline Letessier (who is more accurately referred to as a cocotte, not being a high-ranking courtesan like Blanche) rescued her by moving Blanche in to her own luxurious apartment to live out the rest of her days. Blanche died at age thirty-four, still astonishingly beautiful.

Wikipedia provides a very different version of this story (and Luce is nowhere to be seen in it), where--after a scandal caused by the financial ruin of one of her lovers--Blanche went on tour in Egypt. It was there that she contracted typhoid fever and returned to France, only to be abandoned by all of her friends and to die alone.

I have no idea which of the stories is true (or both, or neither), but I prefer the first.


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