Commonplace Book

Commonplace Book

Final CPB Reflection: 05-03-2022

Kelsey McKinney’s evaluation of commonplace books as “literary scrapbook…instinctual to intellectual cultivation” resonates with me. Content that I chose for my commonplacing was meant to help me better understand context for analyses of our Victorian Monsters literature. Since I opted for the scholarly editions of our texts, I wanted to make full use of them. Unless otherwise prompted, I chose to draw from these editions for my CPB entries. From these sources I featured contextual articles on author biography, Victorian attitudes and interests, Victorian-era colonialism, and resources that the authors themselves may have used. Several entries were based on prompts: to reference materials on our class resource page, to add mixed content like video and images, and to explore mental health through the Wellcome Collection. Finally, there were two wild card entries in my CPB: one about seed cake and another about Soho!

The medium I chose for commonplacing is digital and text-based. My CPB is largely composed of excerpts and direct quotes from reference material of interest to me. I wanted insight about the authors and what may have inspired them. Mary Shelly suffered traumatic events in her life around the most significant relationships: mother/father/husband/children. Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis shows his character in the face of difficulty. Wondering at the many references to the fay in Jane Eyre, I was inspired to feature the video excerpt from the British Library about Victorian speculation on their existence. Similarly, I was drawn to articles on ancient Egyptian mysticism and Transylvanian Superstition. And just as mysterious as fairies, mystics and folklore, is the title of Senf’s criticism: Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror.

My favorite entry is Senf’s criticism of Dracula for considering that Dracula may be more representative of internal threat on the basis that the novel is a compilation of the written but unverifiable one-sided accounts of a group of questionable witnesses, and that sanity is a theme throughout the book. The CPB entry just before it, on Transylvanian Superstition, is a second favorite. I went beyond the scholarly edition resources to include a definition of superstition from Wikipedia where it is juxtaposed with modernity.

“According to Dale Martin, superstitions may represent long standing popular beliefs and practices which presuppose an erroneous understanding about cause and effect, that have been rejected by modern science. Dale says, in modern times, definition of ‘superstition’ is dependent on whatever is considered ‘science’ and hence ‘superstition’ is the ‘other’ to ‘science’ and that modern people accepting certain beliefs even may be aware that those are rejected or marginalized by scientific culture;  hence superstitions are often considered as out of place in modern times influenced by modern science and its notions of what is rational or irrational, surviving as remnants of older popular beliefs and practices.”

We could see Dracula as representative of superstition in juxtaposition with the civilized and modern Victorian culture. In fact, all of our Victorian Monster novels have in some degree incorporated the interplay between superstition, the monstrous and modernity. Most easily convincing that this is a possible interpretation are The Beetle and Dracula—we recently discussed this triad—superstition, the monstrous, and modernity—in class in reference to both of these texts. Dracula as outlined above, and in The Beetle Victorian fascination with the occult is paired with the fears over reverse colonialism and The New Woman. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde incorporates them too: Victorians had an erroneous understanding about cause and effect of crime due to their theories of degeneration and criminality. Jane Eyre, more difficult to align with this argument, could be, if we consider that throughout the novel both Jane and Lord Rochester are described with supernatural counterparts. Yet, Jane and Rochester become a modern couple: Jane ends up with the money and power. We could see The Picture of Dorian Gray as a superstition-based cautionary tale of what happens if you live a life of indulgence (hedonism and aestheticism could be viewed as breaking the taboos of lust, gluttony, greed, pride). Modernity comes into play by virtue of the story’s exploration of hedonism in a contextually modern Victorian Age. Lastly, we come to Frankenstein, which we can be framed as superstition-based cautionary tale about playing God (taboo) and the consequences of modern science.

On evaluating implementation of commonplacing and evolving in this class: investigating context is itself a signpost marking the development of a more discerning approach to English 420. Contextual reference gives me the necessary insight for analyses and questioning. It is a fast track to literary experience, a kind of provisioning before embarking into the wilderness of the novel. Commonplacing for literary analysis is foundational to having a point of reference. Most important is to be alert and curious when reading. Literary analysis requires us to tune in while reading and actively look for patterns. For example, look for recurring themes, notice relationship structure, note how characters are described, and consider what motivates characters beyond the narrative.

McKinney wrote that “commonplace books provided a way to look back through past developments and brainstorm new experiences.” In reviewing my CPB entries and considering what I might want to explore further, a good place to start would be to delve into the triad of superstition, the monstrous, and modernity. Superstition in the broadest sense—”in modern times, definition of ‘superstition’ is dependent on whatever is considered ‘science’ and hence ‘superstition’ is the ‘other’ to ‘science’.” It seems that this broad concept of superstition is either a counterpart, cousin, consequence, or antidote to the monstrous. There is definite correlation. In modern times we can only reference the past; the future is unknown. Where the monster “incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy,” is “pure culture…a construct and a projection,” superstition is the double-edged sword, sometimes serving to initiate the monstrous and sometimes the handbook on how to deal with it.


Cohen, J. J. (1996). Monster theory: Reading culture. University of Minnesota Press.

Kelsey McKinney, “Social Media: Nothing New? Commonplace Books as Precursors to Pinterest,” Ransom Center Magazine, June 9, 2015,

Final Reflection 02 — on Peer CPBs: 04-28-2022

I enjoyed seeing peer common place books for this assignment and left my calling card where I could; I couldn’t find a place to leave a comment on one. Anyway, my comments are below as well.

Aubrie’s site:

I really like the image of the Red Room in entry two. It’s quite arresting, poignant and concerning and perfect imagery for Jane Eyre. I appreciate your question in entry six: “Is it just a matter of perspective in this case?” This is in reference to your response to McCrystal’s criticism on considering whether Hyde is actually a villain. I like that you found a whole History Channel episode on Vlad the Impaler and look forward to watching it as contextual foundation to Dracula’s character. I am sure that once I do, Dracula in comparison will seem almost a “nice” villain, for I expect the reality of the suffering Vlad the Impaler likely imposed on others will be much more upsetting than fiction.

Hannah’s site:

It’s really clever to fit a song to Frankenstein—I really liked entry two. Seven Devils by Florence and the Machine does fit: there is no help for Victor, nothing will save him from Frankenstein’s wrath.

I had to laugh at the Jane Eyre 2006 Ultimate Crack Video—it’s a good reminder to take a break when you start to take yourself too seriously.

Kim’s site:

I really like Shelley’s quote about writing Frankenstein juxtaposed with the moment Victor accomplishes bringing his monster to life, in entry one. I also really liked entry five’s image of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and again really creative to use this entry to feature side by side the text’s descriptions of Jekyll and Hyde.

CPB entry 11: 04-20-2022

Excerpts From Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror by Carol A. Senf

“… my reading of Dracula is a departure from most standard interpretations in that it revolves, not around the conquest of Evil by Good, but on the similarities between the two.” Senf points out that Stoker uses narrative technique to “stress the subjective nature of the story.”

“Stoker de-emphasizes the novel’s mythic qualities by telling the story through a series of journal extracts, personal letters, and newspaper clippings—the very written record of everyday life.”

“Stoker provides several clues to their [the various narrators] unreliability and encourages the reader to see the frequent discrepancies between their professional beliefs and their actions.”

  • The anonymous preface: “for all records chosen are exactly contemporary, give from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them”
  • “at the conclusion, Jonathan Harker questions their interpretation of the events”
  • “The narrators appear to speak with one voice; and Stoker suggests that their opinions are perfectly acceptable so long as they remain within their limited fields of expertise.”
  • “The question of sanity, which is so important in Dracula, provides another clue to the narrator’s unreliability.”
  • “Stoker reveals that what condemns Dracula are the English character’s subjective responses to his character and to the way of life which he represents.”
    • “Harker’s inability to “see” Dracula is a manifestation of moral blindness which reveals his insensitivity to others and…his inability to perceive certain traits within himself.” (Reference Harker’s journal entry where he realizes that Dracula has no reflection in the mirror.)
    • Harker’s attempt to kill Dracula when he realizes he is a pawn in Dracula’s plan to establish himself in London. Senf argues it is here that “the reader sees in his response a profound resemblance between Harker and Dracula…Behavior generally attributed to the vampire—the habit of attacking a sleeping victim, violence, and irrational behavior—is revealed to be the behavior of the civilized Englishman also.”
  • “Stoker implies that the only difference between Dracula and his opponents is the narrator’s ability to state individual desire in terms of what they believe is a common good.” And that, “Stoker’s narrative technique does not permit the reader to enter Dracula’s thoughts.”
  • “The necessity of protecting the innocent is called into question…the vampire cannot enter a dwelling unless he is first invited by one of the inhabitants. In other words, a vampire cannot influence a human being without that person’s consent.”
  • Senf claims Dracula’s behavior is only an internal threat: “Although he is perfectly capable of using superior strength when he must defend himself, he usually employs seduction, relying on the other’s desires to emulate his freedom from external constraints…Van Helsing appears to understand that the others might be tempted by their desires to become like Dracula” and warns them to do their duty for the sake of their souls.
  • “Stoker reveals that Dracula is primarily a sexual threat, a missionary of desire whose only true kingdom will be the human body.”
    • The scene in which Arthur drives the stake through Lucy’s body while the other men filled with violent sexuality which again connects a vampire and opponents” as well as in the book’s conclusion, the way in which “Dr. Van Helsing destroys the three women [vampires] in Dracula’s castle”
  • “All that remains after the primitive, the passionate, and the individualistic qualities that were associated with the vampire have been destroyed is a small group of wealthy men who return after a period of one year to the site of their victory over the vampire.”
  • “The narrators insist that they are agents of God and are able to ignore their similarity to the vampire because their commitment to social values such as monogamy, proper English behavior, and the will of the majority enables them to conceal their violence and their sexual desire from each other and even from themselves.”
  • “Dracula reveals the unseen face in the mirror, and Stoker’s message is similar to the passage from Julius Ceasar…” which might be paraphrased as “The fault, dear reader, is not in our external enemies, but in ourselves.”

Stoker, B., Browning, J. E., & Skal, D. J. (2022). In Dracula: Authoritative text, contexts, reviews and reactions, dramatic and film variations, criticism (474-484). essay, W.W. Norton & Company.

CPB entry 10: 04-14-2022

From Transylvania Superstitions by Emily Gerard

“Stoker gleaned his primary information on Transylvanian folklore from Emily de Laszowska Gerard’s 1885 essay, “Transylvanian Superstitions” later incorporated into her two-volume book

The Land Beyond the Forest (1885)”

Gerard described superstition as “this curious crooked plant of delusion” and wrote “It would almost seem as though the whole species of demons, pixies, witches, and hobgoblins, driven from the rest of Europe by the wand of science, had taken refuge within this mountain rampart…[where] they would find secure lurking places, whence they might defy their persecutors yet awhile.”

She lists three sources of Transylvanian superstition:

  1. The scenery itself: caverns, forest glades, lakes, mountain chasms. Gerard calls this “indigenous superstition” and ascribes the natural environment there with intentionality–“insinuating” itself “into the minds of the oldest inhabitants, the Roumenians” and influencing their thinking.
  2. “Imported superstition” from “old German customs and beliefs brought hither seven hundred years ago”
  3. “Wandering superstition of the gypsy tribes, themselves a race of fortune-tellers and witches”

Entities listed Gerard’s essay are: the spirit of evil (the devil), witches, dragons, demons, the vampire (nosferatu), were-wolf (first cousin to the vampire),

Gerard says that superstition ‘constitutes a sort of religion, applicable to the common household necessities of life, and as such, particular forms of superstition may very well serve as guide to the characters and habits of the particular nation in which they are prevalent.”

I take the liberty to interpret from Gerard’s essay that for the common persons, superstitions were minded with certain behaviors in order to assure best outcomes and accord social contracts. For example, superstitions influenced farming practices, household chores, personal grooming, schedules, leisure, and ceremony.

Gerard wrote that “The Greek Church, to which Roumenians exclusively belong, has an abnormal number of feast-days, to almost each of which peculiar customs and superstitions are attached.” Out of these St. George’s day is the most important. “This same night is the best for finding treasures, and many people spend it wandering about the hills trying to probe the earth for the gold it contains…for perhaps nowhere else have so many successive nations been forced to secret their riches in flying from an enemy…in the night of St. George’s Day…all these treasure being to burn…and the light they give forth, described as a bluish flame…serves to guide favored mortals to their place of concealment.”

Gerard mentions the Scholomance, a school in the mountains where “all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms are taught by the devil in person.”

“More decidedly evil, however, is the vampire…in whom every Roumenian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell…every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent people till the spirit has been exorcised, either by opening the grave…and driving a stake through the corpse, or firing a pistol shot into the coffin. In very obstinate cases it is further recommended to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing the ashes over the grave.”

In closing, a rather compassionate view of superstition:

“According to Dale Martin, superstitions may represent long standing popular beliefs and practices which presuppose an erroneous understanding about cause and effect, that have been rejected by modern science. Dale says, in modern times, definition of ‘superstition’ is dependent on whatever is considered ‘science’ and hence ‘superstition’ is the ‘other’ to ‘science’ and that modern people accepting certain beliefs even may be aware that those are rejected or marginalized by scientific culture;  hence superstitions are often considered as out of place in modern times influenced by modern science and its notions of what is rational or irrational, surviving as remnants of older popular beliefs and practices.”

Stoker, B., Browning, J. E., & Skal, D. J. (2022). Contexts. In Dracula: Authoritative text, contexts, reviews and reactions, dramatic and film variations, criticism (pp. 347–353). W.W. Norton & Company.

CPB entry 9: 4/7/22

Appendix B: The New Woman

“What was new about the new woman was a strongly voiced desire for greater economic freedom and educational opportunities, and for a recognition politically and socially of women’s equality with men. Both the subject of cultural fear and comic satire, the New Woman as idea, as fictional form, and as reality aroused strong emotions and opinions for and against greater emancipation and autonomy for women. The New Woman was opinionated, educated, well-read, liberal in her beliefs, physically active.” (330)

(Terms in these articles worth noting and which I Googled: “as the two ‘old’ types of Victorian womanhood: the ‘cow woman’ and the ‘scum woman’… The cow woman is man’s ‘domestic cattle’, the housewife who never questions her situation. The scum woman is the housewife’s distorted mirror image: the prostitute.”

Article 1: From Ouida, “The New Woman,” North American Review (May 1894)

A brief sample from Ouida: “The error of the New Woman (as of many an old one) lies in speaking of women as the victims of men, and entirely ignoring the frequency with which men are the victims of women. In nine cases out of ten the first to corrupt the youth is the woman. In nine cases of ten also she becomes corrupt herself because she likes it.” (331)

Article 2: From Sarah Grand, “The New Aspect of the Woman Question,” North American Review (March 1894)

A brief sample from Grand: “Mirrors may be either a distorting or a flattering medium, but women do not care to see life any longer in a glass darkly. Let there be light. We suffer in the first shock of it. We shriek in horror at what we discover when it is turned on that which was hidden away in dark corners: but the first principle of good housekeeping is to have no dark corners, and as we recover ourselves we got to work with a will to sweep them out. It is for us to set the human household in order to see to it that all is clean and sweet and comfortable for the men who are fit to help us to make home in it. We are bound to raise the dust while we are at work, but only those who are in it will suffer any inconvenience from it, and the self-sufficing and self-supporting are not afraid. For the rest it will be all benefits. The Woman Question is the Marriage Question…” (333)

Article 3: From Nat Arling, “What is the Role of the ‘New Woman?’,” Westminster Review (November 1898)

A brief sample from Arling: “When women, untrammeled by unjust laws, with their intellects cultivated, their views enlarged by civic and political responsibility, are treated with respect as women, with their work, whatever it be, held in like esteem as that of men; when they are enfranchised, because either unmarried or as mothers, they, equally with men, support the State, or imperil their lives for its well-being, and because, though equally concerned in its prosperity, and affected by its laws, they hold views tinctured by their own woman’s nature, which are valuable and necessary of consideration, as long as humanity is made up of male and female, then we shall hear no more of women wishing to be men, or holding marriage and motherhood, as they are accused of doing, in contempt or abhorrence.” (337)

Article 4: From Kathleen Caffe, “A Reply from Daughters,” The Nineteenth Century (March 1894)

Ms Caffe speaks “in the name of average more or less unemployed, tea-drinking, lawn-tennis playing, ball-going damsel, whose desire for greater emancipation does not run in the same lines as those of the independent shop-girl, or of the young woman with a mission…We do consider ourselves bound by many senseless prejudices, meaningless restrictions, and annoying trammels…How many girls are not at this moment whose position in life is best described by the old simile of a round peg in a square hole?”

“…to be allowed to do a lot of things which she is not permitted to do now, which would make all the difference in the world to her and could harm no one…Set down in plain black and white, her requirements may appear very trifling..” (337 – 339)

Examples of constraints experienced by Caffe’s damsel:

  1. Restrictive (boredom, discontent, subjugation) home life
  2. Chaperoned at all times
  3. Censored interactions; only superficial relationships
  4. Societal pressures enforcing expected behavior
  5. Marriage as an escape

Marsh, Richard, and Julian Wolfreys. Broadview Editions: The Beetle, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont., 2004, pp. 330 -339.

CPB entry 8: 3/31/22

From Georgia Louise Leonard, “The Occult Sciences In the Temple of Ancient Egypt,” The Open Court, 1 & 2 (1887): 470-72, 496-98, found in Appendix C: English Interest and Involvement in Egypt:

“Occult: supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, or phenomena.”

“Esoteric: intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.”

 (Google’s English dictionary is provided by Oxford Languages.

The argument of this article, heavily paraphrased throughout this eighth CPB, appears to be that the inability to truly appreciate all (particularly the sacred) aspects of Egyptian history and culture is due to the barrier of foreign, opposing, and obtuse interpretation, and to the fact that “her vast learning was zealously guarded and revealed only to those who by long and faithful devotion and rigid purity of life had rendered themselves its fitting depositories; and upon the most binding assurances that it should never be divulged.”

It seems as far back as 3100 BC Egypt cultivated the “sciences of hydrostatics and hydraulic engineering and mechanical construction” evidenced in controlling the Nile river, constructing temples and palaces, and colleges “of priests who studied the occult sciences and practical magic…” A hierarchy of learning is described, where even fewer still among the privileged had access to “occult lore which had come down from the remotest ages.” For these elite, the list of studies includes mathematics, astronomy, astrology, metallurgy, chemistry and alchemy, “all of which bore an occult aspect…their calculations applied equally to the spiritual as to the physical progress of mankind.”

According to Leonard, many of their calculations involved planetary evolution; pyramids served astronomical and astrological purposes; astrology and omens were influential both individually and collectively; they were superior alchemists able to transform precious stone; and priests practiced magic as “seers, clairvoyants, diviners and dreamers of dreams.” Leonard states they believed in an “all-pervading, universal essence…from which emanated all things, and which could be controlled and directed by those who were instructed and otherwise properly qualified.”

The excerpt instructs that “Inter-blended and inter-dependent we find Egyptian science and religion.” There is expression of worship and longing in the closing: “Egypt is dead. Her priests have passed away, and buried with them in the recesses of impenetrable tombs lie her wisdom, her magic, and her glory.”

The most helpful insights into The Beetle come from here: “Again and again, his religion taught, he would return to earth, to work out in higher form his spiritual salvation. (This doctrine of re-incarnation, often called transmigration or metempsychosis, has been grossly misunderstood by writers who have attempted to explain it). With this belief was connected the doctrine of the “cycle of necessity.” Can our Egyptologists say what this cycle was? Or what it signified? And can they further tell what the winged scarabaei of Egypt symbolized? Which are found by the hundreds in the tombs of Thebes! They cannot…”

Marsh, Richard, and Julian Wolfreys. Broadview Editions: The Beetle, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont., 2004, pp. 340-344.

CPB entry 7: 3/23/22

Excerpts from De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde:

“The gods had given me almost everything.  But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease.  I amused myself with being a flâneur, a dandy, a man of fashion.  I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds.  I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy.  Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation.  What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.  Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both.  I grew careless of the lives of others.  I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on.  I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop.  I ceased to be lord over myself.  I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it.  I allowed pleasure to dominate me.  I ended in horrible disgrace.  There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility.”

“I am far more of an individualist than I ever was.  Nothing seems to me of the smallest value except what one gets out of oneself.  My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realisation.  That is all I am concerned with.  And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.”

“I am completely penniless, and absolutely homeless.  Yet there are worse things in the world than that.  I am quite candid when I say that rather than go out from this prison with bitterness in my heart against the world, I would gladly and readily beg my bread from door to door.  If I got nothing from the house of the rich I would get something at the house of the poor.  Those who have much are often greedy; those who have little always share.  I would not a bit mind sleeping in the cool grass in summer, and when winter came on sheltering myself by the warm close-thatched rick, or under the penthouse of a great barn, provided I had love in my heart.  The external things of life seem to me now of no importance at all.  You can see to what intensity of individualism I have arrived—or am arriving rather, for the journey is long, and ‘where I walk there are thorns.'”

“I want to get to the point when I shall be able to say quite simply, and without affectation that the two great turning-points in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison.  I will not say that prison is the best thing that could have happened to me: for that phrase would savour of too great bitterness towards myself.  I would sooner say, or hear it said of me, that I was so typical a child of my age, that in my perversity, and for that perversity’s sake, I turned the good things of my life to evil, and the evil things of my life to good.”

“More than this, there is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary reality.  I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age.  There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life.  For the secret of life is suffering.  It is what is hidden behind everything.  When we begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires towards pleasures, and seek not merely for a ‘month or twain to feed on honeycomb,’ but for all our years to taste no other food, ignorant all the while that we may really be starving the soul.”

“All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death; and three times have I been tried.  The first time I left the box to be arrested, the second time to be led back to the house of detention, the third time to pass into a prison for two years.  Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed.  She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.”

Wilde, Oscar. De Profundis,

CPB entry 6: 3/10/22


“The aristocracy had mostly disappeared from Soho by the 19th century, to be replaced by prostitutes, music halls and small theatres. The population increased significantly, reaching 327 inhabitants per acre by 1851, making the area one of the most densely populated areas of London. Houses became divided into tenements with chronic overcrowding and disease. The 1854 cholera outbreak caused the remaining upper-class families to leave the area. Numerous hospitals were built to cope with the health problem; six were constructed between 1851 and 1874.[12] Businesses catering to household essentials were established at the same time.”[25]

CPB entry 5: 3/3/22

Victorian theories of evolution and degeneration:

Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species is published in 1859.

Cesare Lombroso’s Criminal Man is published in 1876.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886

Evolution was a controversial subject in Victorian society, “because it dissolved the boundary between the human and the animal.” (19) In parallel, the theory of degeneration was taking hold [beyond biology] where “the view of crime as a throwback to an earlier, more primitive and violent phase of human development” was prevalent. In politics, “the lower classes were [seen] as a degenerate form of life.” (19, 20) “Slum areas” were a “cause of great concern throughout the Victorian period, but in the 1880s the debate was informed by a vocabulary of “degeneration” drawn from Cesare Lombroso’s texts and a reverse Darwinism that saw inhabitants of the slums as a throwback to a more”primitive” kind of human being.” (18)

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Third  Edition. Broadview Press, 2015, pp. 18-20, 206.

CPB entry 4: 2/24/22

I chose the Cerebral Sedative artifact since it is from the Victorian era, and it seems to align with the progression of the monstrous pointed out by Six and Thompson. I suspect as we continue through our reading list that the source of the monstrous will move from external (embodied as form or outward limitation) to the internal, and specifically, to the human mind. In the Wellcome Collection, searching under “Victorian mental health,” it returned numerous digitized records, pamphlets, books, clinical notes, and a few images.  A picture of the medicine bottle, Cerebral Sedative, 1891, caught my attention. 1891 is near the end of the Victorian era. I am interested to see if or when medicine comes into play in our upcoming readings on Victorian Monsters.

In terms of mental health and doing one’s own research for literary analysis, the prompt for this CPB, Victor, Bertha and John Reed come to mind. Victor was obsessive and imbalanced, to say the least. It is implied that Bertha’s illicit behavior caused her slide into madness. And John Reed drank and partied himself to death. Yet only Bertha is presented outright as monstrous. Drawing conclusions from our readings so far, it would seem that mental health was considered a woman’s weakness.

In both Frankenstein and Jane Eyre, only nature is benign and bountifully generous of its beauty, sustenance, and shelter. Both Jane and the creature had access to nature and both turned to nature for refuge and nourishment. It is notable that those with apparent mental health issues were cut off from nature: Victor toiling and wasting away in his laboratory, Bertha locked up on the third floor, John ensnared in gaming rooms and drinking establishments. If the monster is the culture’s body, and if the monster always escapes, then as society changes so does the monster and so does how we see it and seek to control it. When a culture has less access to nature, does it turn to medicine to alleviate the monstrous?

Cerebral Sedative was meant to calm the nervous system. Sourcing from Wikipedia, I paraphrase its ingredient descriptions:

Chloral hydrate: used as a sedative and hypnotic pharmaceutical drug.

Potassium bromide: used as an anticonvulsant and a sedative in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hyoscyamus: known as the henbanes of the nightshade family, it is a source of the drug hyoscyamine,  useful in pain control for neuropathic pain, chronic pain and palliative care – “comfort care” – for those with intractable pain from untreatable and incurable diseases.

Gelsemium: as late as 1906, a drug made from the rhizome and rootlets of Gelsemium sempervirens, and used in the treatment of nerve pain.

When does the Victorian sense of monster turn inward? When does the monster become a personal burden? And how does dealing with monsters change? When we are increasingly separated from nature as a source of refuge, does that intensify the human capacity for the monstrous? Can external remedies alleviate the monstrous? If the monstrous can never be extinguished, how do we cope with it?

CPB entry 3 Part 1 & 2: 2/17/2022

CPB entry 3 Part 2

Again I chose to read the CPB’s of my regular in-class group. Both chose quotes from the book, one a commentary and one a commentary with historical context. I appreciate the different insights my peers gleaned. One caught the foreshadowing in the “calm before the storm” scene of Jane getting established at Lowood, being thankful for her luck in finding kindness and plenty at her new place of employment. And the other commented on the shocking scene of Bertha’s explicit introduction to the story: as a raving “hyena” versus her previous nighttime stealth and unknown identity. As well, she shared that in the Victorian era public attitudes toward the mentally ill began to shift toward the better.

CPB entry 3 Part 1

This video from the British Library gives some insights about the many references to fairies and supernatural beings in Jane Eyre.

As well, what appears to be a student blog post addresses what I am specifically interested in:

“Fairy language is constantly used throughout the novel Jane Eyre. Many of this language comes from the character of Rochester, that constantly compares and calls Jane magical creatures like witch, elf, sprite, fairy, and more. Jane is generally characterized with fairy-like characteristics…much of the representation of mythical creatures in the novel comes from women alone, despite Jane seeming unaware of her own “mystical” roles.”

“…believers [in fairies] were not limited to gypsies, fisherfolk, rural cottagers, country parsons, and Irish mystics. Antiquarians of the Romantic era had begun the quest for fairies, and throughout Victoria’s reign advocates of fairy existence and investigators of elfin origins included numerous scientists, historians, theologians, artists and writers…In all, in a remarkable “trickle up” of folk belief, a large number of educated Romantics, Victorians, and Edwardians speculated at length on whether fairies did exist or had at least once existed.”

Silver, Carole. “On the Origin of Fairies: Victorians, Romantics, and Folk Belief.” Browning Institute Studies, vol. 14, Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 141–56,

CPB entry 2: 2/9/2022

HungryJenny, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Following is an approachable modern version of Seed Cake. I included imperial units of measure for those of us without a kitchen scale 🙂

I was inspired to research Seed Cakes after reading about Miss Temple sharing such a cake with Jane and Helen Burns on page 136 of Jane Eyre (Broadview edition)

“Jane Eyre’s Seed Cake” courtesy of Brookford Kitchen Diaries

200g plain flour (about 1 and 1/2 cups)

200g caster (superfine sugar) (about 1 cup)

200g butter at room temperature. (about 1 cup)

4 large eggs 

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp grated nutmeg

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp caraway seeds

2 tbsp brandy

A splash of milk if you need it

What you do with it…

Heat the oven to 180C (350F) and grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin or a loaf tin.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy – a handheld electric whisk is fine for this. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir through the seeds, lemon zest and nutmeg. Fold this floury mix into your eggy buttery mix until evenly combined.

Fold in the brandy. Your mix should now be soft enough to drop off a spoon – if not, add a dash of milk.

Spoon into your cake tin and bake for 45-50 minutes – a skewer inserted into the centre should come away clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

A Victorian era Seed Cake recipe by Mary Eaton:

Eaton, Mary. The Cook and Housekeeper’s Complete and Universal Dictionary. J and R Childs, Bungay. 1822

CPB entry 1: 2/1/2022

In class today we talked about the possibility of multiple interpretations of Frankenstein, and how a novel itself can be a ‘loose baggy monster’ (Henry James). Professor Frank wrote on the board “authorial intention.”

Who was Mary Shelley? It’s reasonable to assume her life story will give us insight into the possible authorial intention behind the novel Frankenstein. The scholarly edition of Frankenstein recommended for English 420 provides biographical context from which I list events of influence in Mary Shelly’s life.

  1. Mary was born August 30, 1797. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a radical feminist and writer (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792), died ten days after Mary’s birth.
  2. Her father, William Godwin, was a radical philosopher.
  3. Both of her parents had been “prominent in revolutionary movements that peaked in the late eighteenth century…The years between 1789, the onset of the French Revolution, and 1832, the passage of the Reform Bill that enfranchised portions of the English middle classes for the first time.” (3, 4)
  4. Mary was raised by her father and a step-mother, who made a living as writers and managers of a bookshop. It is suggested that Mary “felt rather neglected.” (9)
  5. Mary had a half-sister, Fanny, through her mother. And she had a step-sister, Jane (later Claire).
  6. It was said that Mary had an excessive attachment to her father. It is implied that she outgrew this in her teen years as she “came to spend more and more time reading her mother’s books at Wollstonecraft’s grave in St. Pancras churchyard.” (9)
  7. In 1814 Mary, aged 17, would secretly meet Percy Shelley, a poet, at the same churchyard. Percy is five years older than she and is a married man.
  8. Percy introduced himself to Mary’s father in 1812, based on interest in his “principles.” Percy and his wife, Harriet, dined regularly with the Goodwins at their home.
  9. Percy and Mary, as his mistress, “ran off to France on July 18, 1814” (10) and took Mary’s step-sister with them.
  10. Percy and Mary married in 1816, within a month of Harriet’s suicide.
  11. “Mary never entirely escaped the social effects of her early indiscretion: as late at 1843 she records “impertinence” and “insult” when she ventured into society.” (10)
  12. Percy and Mary had eight years together. It appears their relationship was troubled by financial hardship and “domestic disturbances” possibly caused by the continued presence of Mary’s step-sister.
  13. It was rumored that Percy and Mary’s step-sister had a child, which may have been turned over to a “foundling hospital.” (10)
  14. Mary and Percy had four children, three of whom unfortunately died prematurely. Two daughters died in infancy and their son, William, died in 1819 at three-and-a-half, after which Mary experienced “a depression so deep she felt she ‘ought to have died’ too.” (10)
  15. In July of 1822 Percy died in a drowning accident. Earlier in that same year, Mary had had a miscarriage and there is speculation over Percy’s involvement with two other women around that time.
  16. After Percy’s death, Mary had to “support herself and a young son by writing” (12) To be clear, Percy and Mary had one surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley.
  17. Mary continued to write despite her father-in-law, Sir Timothy Shelley, threatening to withdraw financial support and blocking a biography of his son.
  18. Mary wrote “five novels, several poems, a dozen articles and reviews, twenty short stories, a travel book, two books of biographies, and critical editions of Percy’s poetry and prose.” (11) She began Frankenstein in mid 1815 and expanded and revised is through 1831.


Shelley, M. W., & Smith, J. M. (2016). 4, 5. In Frankenstein: Complete, authoritative text with biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, critical history, and essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. essay, Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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