Book Cover
Title The Beetle
Series ---
Author Richard Marsh
Cover Art ---
Publisher ---
First Printing 1897
Category Gothic
Warnings None

Main Characters

Richard Holt, Sydney Atherton, Marjorie Lindon, Paul Lessingham, Champnell

Main Elements Wizards

'The Beetle' (1897) tells the story of a fantastical creature, "born of neither god nor man," with supernatural and hypnotic powers, who stalks British politician Paul Lessingham through fin de siecle London in search of vengeance for the defilement of a sacred tomb in Egypt.

In imitation of various popular fiction genres of the late nineteenth century, Marsh unfolds a tale of terror, late imperial fears, and the "return of the repressed," through which the crisis of late imperial Englishness is revealed.

Another of my random gothic lit downloads which turned out to be rather enjoyable. A clerk down on his luck finds himself homeless and in desperation climbs into a window of what appears to be an abandonned house only to find it to contain an undescribable horror which possesses him, sending him on an errand to steal something precious belonging to the politician Paul Lessingham, who has just recently become betrothed to Marjorie Lindon, the daughter of his greatest opponent. Marjorie then has her childhood friend, and now inventor, Sydney Atherton propose to her, thus resulting in a sort of animosity between him and Paul. Throw in a detective named Champnell and a bizarre character called the "Arab", and a strange connection to beetles, and you've got quite the creepy mystery.

The tale is told from the point of view of four of the main characters, which interestingly included Marjorie, a very strong female character given the time period, though she does end up having to play the damsel in distress as well (though for you feminists out there, she holds out better than Holt!).

Overall it was a little long, especially as we had to cover the same ground as we switched between narrators, giving the impression the events took several days or even weeks when it seems like it was less than 48 hours overall.

It has a little of everything, sexual ambiguity, cross-dressing, orgies, human sacrifices, shapeshifting, hypnosis, and a truly disturbing and disgusting protagonist. Pretty much all the classic Victorian fascination with freaky perversions. The rational (Atherton the scientist) versus the magical (the Isis cults). And a chase scene at the end...a very frustrating endeavour in that day and age where you couldn't just hop in a car and zoom along a highway at breathtaking speeds, you had trains, that ran on a certain schedule, horse carriages that ran even slower, and you couldn't even call ahead to get the cops to be ready when the train did arrive at it's destination! After all there were telegrams, but you had to get the office, they had to send it, the office at the other end had to receive it, deliver it to the intended recipient, then had to round up the cops, etc. A minor thing, but added to the overall suspense.

It can be comfortably compared to Dracula, it came out around the same time and back then was even more popular. It is always interesting to see how one book becomes famous and another disappears into obscurity. So if you are into Victorian "weird" novels, and the Victorian fascination with ancient Egypt, you should give this one a try.

After having recently read The Metamorphosis as well, not sure I'll be able to look at Beetles in the same way again...

Posted: October 2016


Background, images and content (unless otherwise noted) are SunBlind
Do not use without permission.