A Student Response to The Beetle

As we approached the end of the course, I was anticipating the moment that I finally read Richard Marsh’s novel, The Beetle. Having already read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I kept wondering to myself… what is the most frightening thing about this novel?

I came to the conclusion that people are most afraid of something if it has relevance to their lives – ultimately, if they can relate to it. Personally speaking, a horror movie isn’t as scary to me as when it mentions that it was “based on real events”. (Just me?) Marsh does just that with this novel. He uses the decline of Britain as a world power at the end of the 19th century to strike fear into the hearts of Victorians; and also to ignite curiosity in their hearts – to have them question their morals. The purpose of this text is to cause the audience to feel both fear, and guilt. The fear is caused by the thought that the West is on the edge of being colonized by the immigration of barbaric forces of the East. And that… brings us to the feeling of guilt. But I’m assuming at first, the Victorians tried to replace the guilt with denial and here’s why:

Throughout the text, Richard Marsh criticizes the British colonial practices conducted on (primarily) the female population of the regions they colonized. They physically, mentally and verbally abused these women in their own homes. Does that sound familiar from the novel? The Beetle mirrors British imperialism in the novel. Marsh basically uses the foreigner (aka, the Beetle) to represent the villain in this story because it’s what they want to believe; and has her sexually exploit them. Similar to how the soldiers frequently sexually exploited the women belonging to the colonies in which the British imperialized to fulfill their sexual fantasies (obviously through rape). After exploring the text further, the most frightening aspect of the novel – yes, was that it represented real life events. But I can help but think, it must have been even more horrifying for the Victorians reading this novel at the time it was released; for it was a method of confronting the British with their own monstrous nature – haunting them, not only through the Beetle, but by leaving them terrified of themselves as well.

One thought on “A Student Response to The Beetle

  1. This is definitely a new way of looking at the text. The way I read it was the other way around, in that the beetle was reflective of the Egyptian colonizers influence on Britain’s society. I say this because Beetles were distinct to Egyptians much like snakes and scorpions. That seemed a direct reference to me. more to that is that the people possessed by the beetle were from Britain. However, I agree of the fright it must have been for the Victorians reading this because (for me anyways and I interpret it) it mirrored what they felt they were actually going through, at least for Britain. This fear of reverse colonization.

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