City Research Online

Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897): A Late-Victorian Popular Novel

Vuohelainen, M. (2006). Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897): A Late-Victorian Popular Novel. Working With English: medieval and modern language, literature and drama, 2(1), pp. 89-100.


This paper deals with the publication history and popular appeal of a novel which, when first published in 1897, was characterised by contemporary readers and reviewers as “surprising and ingenious”, “weird”, “thrilling”, “really exciting”, “full of mystery” and “extremely powerful”. According to reviewers, this “well-written” story was “narrated with a clearness of style and a fullness of incident which hold the reader’s attention from first to last”. Compared favourably to the work of Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker, this novel was presented “with hideous actuality”, was “difficult, if not impossible, to lay down... when once begun” and succeeded “in producing that sensation of horror which should make the flesh of even the least susceptible reader creep” (“Opinions of the Press”). Given the recent scholarly interest in late-nineteenth century popular fiction, one would expect to find such a thrilling novel the subject of ample academic attention. Yet Richard Marsh’s popular potboiler The Beetle: A Mystery is now only known to readers of cult fiction and collectors of rare books. First published in 1897, almost simultaneously with Bram Stoker’s Dracula with which it makes a remarkable comparison, Marsh’s bestselling shocker has been sadly neglected by post-war readers. This paper examines its immense initial popularity, critical history and slow decline, locating the novel within a specific context of time and readership.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Permission to add this article to City Research Online has been granted by the publisher.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
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