Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues.
THE OCTAVE OF CLAUDIUS (1897) – By Barry Pain. This obscure little Gothic honey is just good enough that you wish it had been better. There are so many elements that make it appealing but it falls just short of being a worthwhile read for anybody except obsessive fools like me.
Claudius Sandell, a once-promising young man who has wound up disinherited and poverty-stricken is broken and suicidal but is saved by mad scientist Dr Gabriel Lamb. Lamb is a wealthy sadist whose macabre experiments on human beings have already cost his wife her sanity and their infant child its life.
Since Claudius feels he has nothing to lose he accepts Dr Lamb’s proposition to become his most recent human guineau pig in exchange for eight days (the “octave” of the title) with enough money to indulge himself in ways Oscar Wilde would have found gaudy and excessive. He can also pretend to be wealthy and successful to impress all the people in his life who had written him off as a failure.
While Sandell enjoys his bittersweet eight days of living it up he also gets his novel published through sheer bluff, reconciles with his father and, of course, falls in love. All the while he knows he faces his doom in Dr Lamb’s experiment at the end of it all. Periodic cutbacks to the Lamb household fill in more of the Doctor’s twisted, violent ways, the fate of his caged experimental “failures” and eerie hints at the exact nature of his research into human evolution.
The mad doctor plans to transform Claudius into the next step in humanity’s development, but the strain will likely kill the unfortunate man. A Lon Chaney silent movie called Blind Bargain (1922) adapted the story and improved it a bit by making Dr Lamb’s butler and nurse characters two of his monstrous failed attempts at his “next step in evolution.”
Unfortunately that film is one of the countless silent movies that have not survived. As for the novel, even the fiery conclusion can’t save it from its own too-frequent failings. Primary among those failings would be the way it gets bogged down in Soap Opera storylines with many of the supporting characters.
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