“This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
—“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”
After “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” appeared in the Strand in March of 1923, a second seemingly occult-inspired tale appears less than one year later, in January of 1924. Initially, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” bears the hallmarks of Conan Doyle’s late friend and Dracula author Bram Stoker, but quickly changes, in both content and tone, to an examination not of the supernatural, but of the very much human elements that haunt domestic life. It is perhaps this aspect that has drawn the most attention to “Sussex Vampire” amid the stories comprising the Holmes canon. For the monster whose evil bloodletting is chief cause for Holmes taking up the case is not some otherworldly creature, but, rather, a mother, who, it is alleged to the detective, is quenching her thirst for blood on her own infant child.
For feminist writers, such as Cyndy Hendershot and Elena Maria Emandi, the implications of this horrific scene explore the moral dogma that so typified Victorian middle-class existence (n.b., the story is set in 1896). As Emandi, writing in a 2013 issue of the journal Gender Studies, noted:
An aspect that is worth mentioning is the emphasis on Mrs. Ferguson’s role of devoted wife and mother at the expense of her sexuality and independence…Mrs. Ferguson and her story provide a space for the exploration of otherness: she is suspected to be a vampire, therefore she is otherized. She is also non-English. Her vampirism, sign of her sexual nature, represents a threat to her family… [t]he vampire cast as the wayward woman failing to live up to Victorian virtue.