27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wierd.
"The Beetle" has got to be one of the strangest novels to come out of the richness of the whole Victorian/Edwardian Gothic tradition. It concerns a bizarre creature, the insect of the title, that can transform itself into a human being. The story starts with a down-and-out on the streets of London, trying desperately to find somewhere to shelter for the night against...
Published on 20 Jan 2004 by S. Hapgood
3.0 out of 5 stars Beetle Noir
The Beetle (1897) concerns the impact on English life of a mysterious oriental figure who pursues a British politician from Egypt to London, where he wreaks havoc with his powers of hypnosis and shape and even gender shifting. Published the same year as Dracula (which it outsold) the novel is structured as four consecutive narratives, with further narratives within them,...
Published 7 months ago by barbicandy
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wierd.,
This review is from: The Beetle (Pocket Classics) (Paperback)
"The Beetle" has got to be one of the strangest novels to come out of the richness of the whole Victorian/Edwardian Gothic tradition. It concerns a bizarre creature, the insect of the title, that can transform itself into a human being. The story starts with a down-and-out on the streets of London, trying desperately to find somewhere to shelter for the night against the rain. He finds a window open in what appears to be an abandoned house, and climbs in. He finds himself sharing his quarters with someone who appears slowly from under a mass of bedding in the corner. This person appears to be a bald-headed repellent old man, with a creepy way of speaking, who takes the tramp for its first victim.
Rather akin to Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" in that this terrible creature begins to wreck havoc on the polite society it finds itself in. But what is this creature? For one thing we are never entirely sure what sex it is, on many occasions it appears to be an hermaphrodite, which adds some intriguing sexual psychology to the proceedings! Or perhaps Marsh was simply picking up on the old idea that alchemists, when they had perfected their craft, were able to change sex? The whole story is a bizarre yet absorbing mix of true Victorian spaciness combined with John Buchan-style heroics (there is a splendid chase scene when the creature is pursued across London and onto a train). I suspect the reasons it is not that well known these days is that the writing is quite dated. Incidentally, Richard Marsh was the grandfather of fantasy writer, Robert Aickman, so it seems that writing "strange stories" ran in the family!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marsh's Masterpiece,
Published at around the same time as Stoker's Dracula this book initially outsold Dracula, but alas over the years it has not fared so well. For something like forty plus years it remained out of print, but now with this Wordsworth Edition you can have a brand spanking new one at an affordable price. This book has always been considered by most to be Richard Marsh's masterpiece and it is definitely a classic horror tale from the fin de seicle putting it alongside Dracula and The Picture of Dorien Gray. So why then has it become neglected? Unlike the other two books mentioned this has dated, but probably more importantly it doesn't fall nicely into one genre and it is all a bit camp. I love nineteenth century novels and I love gothic horror and decadence, so that didn't put me off of this as probably it would some people.
Told by four different narrators we are told a strange and bizarre tale of a creature - a scarab beetle that shapeshifts into a man, or as some report, a woman. We are never really sure what the thing really is or what sex, does it use magic to become human or is it human and changes sex and becomes a beetle by magic? This vagueness leads to the terror felt by the main characters - this thing is also able to mesmerise people and place them under its power. Taking in and mentioning the Cult of Isis, orgies and naked young women being sacrificed there is a whiff of decadence and erotica in this tale that runs most of the way through it, and this is probably what made it such a sensation at the time. Indeed if you were to take away the supernatural part from it this would read as a sensation novel. With the heroine being kidnapped we are led to believe that she will be stripped, tortured and killed, thus leading to the excitement at the later stages of the novel and leading to a great little chase scene.
Will the monster get what it wants, or will it be eventually thwarted? I'm not going to say, you will just have to read this book to find out. If you love a great read that is both fun and enjoyable then buy this book. If you are into classic horror then this should really be on your bookshelf, the same applies if you are into fin de siecle. All in all this is a great little read and will definitely while away a few hours.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars exciting,
Other reviewers have already outlined the plot, so I would just like to add that I found this an interesting and exciting story. Like most novels of its time it reads differently to modern books, but, so much the better for that (good grammar and no foul language!). Easily readable, the story rocks along with a good pace.
I thoroughly enjoyed it.
3.0 out of 5 stars Beetle Noir,
The Beetle (1897) concerns the impact on English life of a mysterious oriental figure who pursues a British politician from Egypt to London, where he wreaks havoc with his powers of hypnosis and shape and even gender shifting. Published the same year as Dracula (which it outsold) the novel is structured as four consecutive narratives, with further narratives within them, a style not dissimilar to that of Dracula and the Woman in White and popular in Victorian times. Marsh doesn’t differentiate the various narrative voices particularly well and uses highly overblown language though not without a sense of irony. However his horror, The Beetle, the centre of a strange cult, is original, and the plot brings together elements of white slave trafficking, mesmerism, feminism, class prejudice, racism and xenophobia. How much Marsh is a product of his time and how much he distanced himself from it is a matter of interpretation, but the novel has more subtleties than are obvious. The reference by one narrator to the case of the Duchess of Datchet’s deed box sounds like a Holmesian homage but it is actually the title of a novel that he wrote a couple of years after the Beetle. At times the story seems slowed by the redundancy of the multiple narratives, at other times he throws away an entire sequel in a sentence. Anyway it all comes to a rather exciting climax. Lovecraft praised the novel in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature and it clearly influenced his own stories with its references to nameless horrors and loathsome practices. If you are looking for a fast paced supernatural thriller then this is a good place to pause.
4.0 out of 5 stars Not one for Cat lovers...,
I loved this Victorian mystery story from virtually the same time of publication as Stoker's Dracula. In fact, The Beetle apparently outsold Dracula initially, but Stoker's work won in the overall popularity contest and The Beetle fell largely from sight. I had never heard of Marsh's work before but apparently he was a prolific author and there are lots and lots of free kindle works of his out there - some of which I have downloaded and shall be reading.
This book tells the story of a mysterious man/woman/being who is living in a down at heel rented villa in London and has the ability to transform himself into a beetle. In fact, he is the magical scarab beetle of Egypt and emblematic of the worshipers of Isis. The story then goes on to be told through four different points of view as to how he/she/it wreaks havoc across London including causing a train wreck. It's all terribly exciting and crosses the classes as well as the various neighbourhoods of London.
I particularly liked the first book's narrator, the down on his luck clerk, Robert Holt. The second book is narrated by Sydney Atherton - definitely upper class and some kind of early chemical weapons manufacturer - when he tested his "inventions" on a neighbourhood cat, I fell out with him and started wanting the Beetle to win! Marjorie Lindon who narrates the third book is a great example of a modern Victorian woman and the final narrator, a private detective, will remind readers of Sherlock Holmes (and, incidentally also reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's lead character in "When we were Orphans").
This is a great example of fin de siecle literature with thoroughly modern "new women" featuring, lots of emphasis on science as well as the class divisions which were so painfully apparent during those times. It also has that Victorian obsession with all things Egyptian to commend it. A great example of Victorian literature and FREE on Kindle. Not to be missed.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic,
This is a gripping tale and a must read for everyone, whether you enjoy older horror/ mystery writing or not. This piece of work is truly a masterpiece.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Post-Gothic Page-Turner,
`The Beetle' (1897) by Richard Marsh is an excellent horror-story but it also something more. It has been described as a mystery and romance. They are there but basically it is a thriller and a very good one too. Each of the four parts of the story ends in a climax which should grip the reader.
The opening section describes how a `down-and-out' (Robert Holt) stumbles on a creature of horror in an empty house. He is forced to carry out a burglary and the extreme effect on the victim (Paul Lessingham) switches the attention to Lessingham and his rivalry with Sydney Atherton (a scientist) for the hand of Marjorie Lindon. But why does all this interest the eponymous creature?
The story is told through the eyes of four people, a common device in the 19th century (e.g. `The Moonstone'). The first part describes the experiences of Robert Holt, a mere tool of the Beetle for much of the time. This is succeeded by the account of Sydney Atherton, the somewhat detached scientist who alone seems able to challenge the Beetle. Then comes `the woman's point of view' as Marjorie Lindon tells her story. The final part is given by Augustus Champnell, a detective hired to solve the mystery. His account provides the history of Paul Lessingham and so the origin of this desire for vengeance. This device of telling the story through the eyes of characters is very successful. For example, Marjorie Lindon is shown as cold and willful and not a very nice person through the account of Atherton but her own account changes that perspective and she is really a determined and devoted young woman, typical of so many of her real-life peers. The first part allows the reader to see the desperate condition of Holt, whereas throughout the rest of the book he is just a helpless individual manipulated by others.
Obviously in horror `The Beetle' may rival `Dracula' (also published in 1897) which it initially outsold. In suspense, as in the final train chase, it compares to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. Marjorie Lindon resembles in some ways other misunderstood heroines of fiction (e.g. Jane Eyre). So why has `The Beetle' fallen out of favour over the last hundred years. I would suggest because the menace in the story hovers between the occult and the crazy - just like some of the plots of Dennis Wheatley (again out of favour). Perhaps the horror genre has its fans and weird practices don't quite live up to that level - s when you see how an illusionist as misdirected you to secure the effect. The book has its weakness. Why does the Beetle wander around the streets in such garish outfits? How do people turn up at key moments. But give the book a chance and you'll be enthralled, I'm sure.
Read the tale and judge for yourself.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cracking good read,
Apparently, this novel once outsold Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it is easy to see why. It tells the strange tale of the creature called The Beetle that plays tricks on and catch with London's polite society, a secret and ancient Egyptian cult, human sacrifice of innocent maidens, mesmerism, a nobody rising to political power who might be hiding a mysterious secret in his past, and you can see why it may have intrigued and fascinated its readership. It does have its faults: its language and settings feel quite old-fashioned today and some of the plot developments are full of melodrama and incredible coincidences. That said, it is still a cracking good read, with the plot gathering pace after the first third of the book, and the passages where the heroine, Marjorie Lindon, is left alone with the creature in her room are truly terrifying. Recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing,
Thoroughly enjoyed this book a real page turner.have not read anything in this genre before.but it was really engrossing.
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The Beetle (Annotated) by Richard Marsh