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February 2007
 
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The Octave of Claudius, by Barry Pain (1897)

CLAUDIUS Sandell, a young unpublished novelist, is rendered penniless and homeless when his father disowns him. The mysterious surgeon Dr. Lamb gives Claudius £8,000 to spend as he sees fit, and an octave (eight days) in which to spend it…on condition that Claudius must afterward submit to an experiment that will "benefit mankind."

In the next eight days, Claudius reconciles with his father, gets his novel accepted, meets a beautiful young woman who reciprocates his passion, and becomes wealthy in the stock market. Naturally, being a man of honor, Claudius reports to Dr. Lamb's laboratory on schedule. Fortunately, the crazed scientist's long-abused wife murders Dr. Lamb just as Claudius is about to be surgically regressed to simian form.

Decades after its publication, The Octave of Claudius was praised by George Orwell as "a brilliant exercise in the macabre." The novel was filmed (with major changes) in 1922 as A Blind Bargain, notable for a hand-colored sequence when the hero attends a charity ball, and for Lon Chaney's presence in a dual role: in a somewhat mannered performance as the mad scientist, and as the aftermath of one of Dr. Lamb's previous experiments (a character not in the original novel).

Barry Eric Odell Pain (1867-1928) was an English journalist who wrote novels and parodies. His 1911 novel An Exchange of Souls describes an attempt by a man and woman to trade bodies, but remains ambiguous as to whether or not the exchange really occurs.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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