In Richard Marsh’s The Beetle, the Woman of Song is intentionally separated from the Western characters in order to emphasize her otherness. No perspective is given to her, no femininity except in her moment of naked exposure to Sydney, and no true voice as the other characters do not speak languages other than English and her version of it is garbled and rough. By viewing her through the interpretation of Edward Said’s Orientalism, with traces of Freud’s uncanny and a smattering of othering, the Woman of Song becomes a stereotype for the Orient as a whole, effectively so as Sydney is unable to identity where she belongs altogether. No characters can identify her other than her physically bizarre body, her rasping voice, and of course her nose hooked like a beak. The Woman of Song is intentionally separated from the other characters in order to emphasize the orientalism of the Orient and the view held by Western society at the time.
The various characters of The Beetle describe the goddess/child of Isis/Beetle as being either foreigner, Oriental or describing coloration as yellow. Even the way she speaks is marked as “guttural tones” that were “reminiscence of some foreign land” (55). Yet, each character seems to peg her differently. Ranging in descriptions between male, female, and androgynous, and only given a name once, Woman of Songs, she proves to be outside the scope of the human in this text. Which is of course only fair as she is portraying either a deity or a follower of one who has the power of transfiguration of self. In his introduction to Orientalism, Said describes the orient as a place of “exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (1866). Marsh effectively covers these three pins. The Woman of Songs is an exotic being, Paul Lessingham is filled with haunting memories, the area near the Nile where he was kidnapped and the house Holt and eventually Sydney, Marjorie, and Paul go to, creates a haunted landscape, and all of the text is a remarkable experience.
The separation of the “morbid organisations” which are said to be found more “in the east than in the west” from the idea of “Westerns [being] among the rudiments” while “Orientals leave us at the post” makes clear the division in the text between East and West (105, 263). The characters of The Beetle separate themselves by describing the Woman of Song as being inherently inhuman and by constantly reminding the reader of the foreign characteristics. With “yellow fangs,” a “queer foreign twang,” a “thin, yellow, wrinkled hand,” as physical characteristics versus the assumed whiteness of the other characters, put forth in an example of Marjorie in her virginal whiteness, the Woman of Song becomes dirty and “grimy-looking” in comparison (86, 85, 231, 176). This separation is based on the Orient as “European invention” and “European Western experience” and the “Orientalized” form it takes on when viewed and studied by Western identities (Said 1866, 1870). Marsh presents the Woman of Song as only through observation rather than through her own viewpoint. Holt, Sydney, Paul and Champnell are given their own perspectives of the Woman of Song and of her victims.
By othering the Woman of Song and placing her in a separate location, Marsh effectively reinforces the psychoanalysis of Freud and Said. The interactions between the characters and the Woman of Song are described as uncanny and othering while the refusal of a first-person perspective creates a separation and a sense of the orientalism Marsh is setting up. Roughly twenty-five quotes mention the Woman of song as yellow, foreign or Oriental. However, the characters seem to fail in their ability to separate the differences in the Orient. Often confusing the Woman of Song for an Arab (or Harab) or by Sydney by simply being unable to place amongst the many Oriental identities he had known. Again, this falls back to a power dynamic Marsh uses to position the Western view over that of the Orient. As Said argues, “[t]he relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, [and] of varying degrees of a complex hegemony” (1870).
Marsh, Richard. The Beetle, ed. Julian Wolfreys, Broadview Press, 2004.
Said, Edward W. “Introduction to Orientalism,” Norton Anthology of Writing and Criticism, Second Edition, Norton, 2010, pp. 1866-1888.