Thursday, April 26, 2012
Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw – Part Four
Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw was originally serialized in five installments in Lippincott’s from February through June 1915. The serial was subsequently published in book form later that same year by Methuen Press in the UK and McBride & Nast in the US. The novel chooses to divide the story into four sections. This week, we examine the fourth and final part.
Rohmer really delivers with the final section of the novel with the development of the Eurasian femme fatale, Mahara who was previously referred to only under the mysterious moniker of Our Lady of the Poppies. Mahara becomes a flesh and blood character fiercely jealous to think that her lover, Gianopolis has been thinking of leaving her for another. The object of his affections is Helen Cumberley, Henry Leroux’s neighbor who despises Gianapolis as much as she pines for the unhappy thriller writer. Such a tangled web of unrequited love is uncommon for Rohmer, but it added to the novel’s appeal in its day and is surely one of the reasons that Stoll chose it to be the first of his works to bring to the silver screen.
The narrative then switches to Gaston Max in the observation chamber of the opium den. The famous French detective feigns smoking opium, but only exhales through the pipe. Faking a drug-induced stupor, Max waits while Ho-Pin enters the room to check on him and is then startled to discover that upon his exit, Mahara has entered. Rohmer relished creating memorable femme fatales and Mahara seems to have been his first notable accomplishment with such a character. The Eurasian temptress passionately kisses the supposedly unconscious Max while lying upon him and cooing to him how she is going to enter his dreams. The image of a man forced to feign unconsciousness while a seductive female grinds into him is certainly powerful and far from the norm for fiction in 1915.
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