There’s a brand of household cleaner, usually sold in the “organic / natural products” sections of American supermarkets, called “Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day.” One of their general kitchen cleaning sprays comes in a scent described as Lemon Verbena, and for a long time, I vigorously disliked it: something about the scent just struck my nose wrongly. However, after moving house in July, I’ve found that suddenly, I quite like it, and now find it rather fresh and pleasantly floral. I’ve no idea why: sometimes, these switches are just thrown in our brains.
After reading Sax Rohmer’s collection of tales entitled The Dream-Detective, though, I’ve have a further association with the scent of verbena: that of the curious dealer in antiquities who inhabits shabby quarters in the East End of London, a sort of “psychic investigator” before such a term had been coined, the thin-haired man with the scragly white beard and a high yellow forehead, Moris Klaw. In my mind, the scent of verbena is now, thanks to this book, irretrievably linked with Klaw “applying a cooling spray of verbena to cool his overheated forehead,” before wiping it down with a handkerchief.
Best known for his creation of the deeply troubling character of Dr. Fu Manchu, Arthur Henry “Sarsfield” Ward, known by his pen name of Sax Rohmer, was a successful Edwardian novelist, who liked to dabble in the occult, mysticism, and the Egyptology which had captured the popular imagination of the day. Rohmer’s Fu Manchu proved to be his most popular and enduring character, but as those stories of an Asian master criminal, written on a wave of “yellow peril” jingoism and unembroidered racism, are rightly unlikely to ever regain any sort of societal currency, it doesn’t seem that Rohmer’s star will be in the ascendant again any time soon.Continue reading