Heidi R on The Beetle

“Staring Eyes” and Ashen Faces: Richard Marsh’s Stifled Scream

As I read The Beetle for the first time over the last couple of weeks, I was increasingly creeped out and “spellbound” (49) by it at the same time. I have always loved a touch of the macabre/dark/mysterious/melancholic in literature. I think what drew me in the most was the complete and utter hold of “panic fear” (49) that the beetle inspired in the characters; the descriptions that Marsh creates are vivid, particularly the numerous descriptions of faces frozen in terror.

The visceral, all-encompassing fear that Marsh’s characters have of the beetle made my imagination go wild. Every character that comes into contact with the beetle experiences a paralysis, not just of body, but often of facial expression as well; each time this happened in the book, the imagery struck me.

I found myself trying to construct the images of the characters in my head (which we do with anything we read), but their expressions of fear and wide-eyed panic inspired me further. I found myself thinking of various images of frightened faces from popular culture. The topmost image that came to my mind, and which resurfaced again when I began to investigate further into this novel and the production of art in this time, was Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893-1910). One description of Holt’s fear recalls the haunting wide-eyed stare of Munch’s creation: “I stared in front of me with eyes in which, had it been light, would have been seen the frenzy of unreasoning fear” (49-50). Marjorie’s face displays a similar expression, a “white, drawn face, and staring eyes, dumb with an agony of fear” (176). Atherton describes Holt’s face when he encounters him in the street: “not a word issued from those rigid lips; there was not a tremor of those awful eyes—eyes which I was tolerably convinced saw something which I had never seen, or ever should” (99).

The_Scream.googleimage (1)“The Scream of Nature” was, according to Munch, inspired by a particular experience of his. From an article about the painting on smithsonianmag.com:

Munch defined how we see our own age—wracked with anxiety and uncertainty. His painting of a sexless, twisted, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, re-created a vision that had seized him as he walked one evening in his youth with two friends at sunset. As he later described it, the “air turned to blood” and the         “faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white.” Vibrating in his ears he heard “a huge endless scream course through nature.” (Lubow 1)

Capturing the scream of ‘nature’ in the vibrant colours, style, and striking face of the foreground figure, Munch’s work evokes an emotional state that is comparable to the effect produced by Marsh’s horror-stricken characters. Like Paul Lessingham, in whose “countenance amazement, fear, and horror seems struggling for the mastery,” (76) the figure in Munch’s work stares in unseeing, petrified, “abject terror” (115).

But interestingly, the figure in the painting is engaged in the titular scream, which many of the characters in The Beetle seem unable to do. Rather, they are struck “dumb” (176), paralyzed by the force of the intruding creature, which makes this novel all the more disturbing; how terrifying to experience such a strong emotion and be unable to give it a voice.

Works Cited

Lubow, Arthur. “Edvard Munch: Beyond the Scream.” Smithsonian.com. Arts and Culture, March 2006. Web.

Marsh, Richard. The Beetle. Ed. Julian Wolfreys. Peterborough: Broadview, 2004. Print.


3 thoughts on “Heidi R on The Beetle

  1. Heidi,

    I find it very interesting that you use Munch’s painting as a comparison to Marsh’s horror-stricken characters. I found the overall comparison to be very striking because the painting really creeps me out… Perhaps another painting to reference would be “The Nightmare” by the Anglo-Swiss artist, Henry Fuseli. It is Fuseli’s best-known work and illustrates a sleeping woman that is draped over her bed, neck exposed. Sitting on top of her is the monster, or nightmare. While the painting is supposed to represent the hold that our dreams can have on us, I think it is also an excellent representation of vulnerability. While nakedness is associated with vulnerability through the character of Robert Holt in Marsh’s novel, being asleep is another day-to-day occurrence in which one is experiencing a type of paralysis and feels helpless and susceptible to attack.


    • Hi Hiedi,
      I found your blog very interesting! Particularly, your comparison of the novel to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”
      I myself would’ve never seen the comparison until I read your blog entry. I never really noticed the similar facial expressions such as the eyes and how they are one key factor what is known about the painting and the novel. Aside from the mouth being the centre of the painting, perhaps the eyes have a significant effect as well. For example, when three out of the four narrators encounter The Beetle, when they stare into it’s eyes, they posessed by this paralysis that they cannot overcome. They say the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so maybe the eyes of The Bettle and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” have some form of power among those who encounter them. Much more so The Beetle than “The Scream”, but perhaps maybe that’s why people are so fascinated by the painting whenever they encounter it. It maybe give’s them this paralysis they couldn’t control.


  2. Heidi,

    I really liked how you compared the paralysis experienced by the characters to Edvard Munch’s painting. For me, the utter fear represented in The Scream can be linked to the inner fear felt by Holt, which he is unable to express verbally. Whenever I look at the painting (as I find myself doing constantly while writing this) i find my whole body tensing up. I might not be afraid of anything at the moment, at least nothing like the “monstrous conception of some dreadful vision” that is described as having the tentacles of a spider (51). The imagery which Marsh conveys in this scene still gives me goosebumps. But the overarching feeling I get, which Munch portrays perfectly in The Scream, is this inability to run or even utter a single word. While the figure in the painting appears to be screaming, I have always imagined this scream to be soundless and thus void of any noise. The figure is then trapped within his own body, much like Holt, Marjorie, and Atherton.

    This feeling of entrapment sort of reminds me of being so cold you cannot move, even though you know you need to. But in truth, words cannot even describe the utter fear that takes hold when you are trapped inside your own body. So by inadvertently touching on your comment FJC, I completely agree with your remark about people’s fascination with the painting. There is a certain allure to fear, which I guess is why people like horror movies so much; you never truly know what is lurking behind the door, or in this case, through an open window. This lack of control is enticing, especially in today’s world where everything is at the touch of our fingertips.


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