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The Beetle Rough Draft

In Richard Marshs The Beetle, a terrifying monster wreaks havoc on a group of
Englishmen and women who all have the misfortune of crossing its path. Originally from Egypt,
the Beetle is in England to pursue revenge on its lost lover, Paul Lessingham, a noted politician
and statesman. Throughout the novel, the Beetle hypnotizes, kidnaps, and sexual assaults both
male and female characters. While this kind of power suggests the Beetles sex to be male, we
discover that it in fact has female sex organs. The juxtaposition of the Beetles actions with its
assumed gender are a huge cause of tension throughout the novel. Richard Marsh uses this
monster to personify the Victorian fear of foreigners, female sexuality, and homosexuality,
implying that the society the story is placed in is being held together by conventions that are
incredibly vulnerable. He does this by warping the idea of a New Woman
The novel is broken up into four separate accounts, all by different narrators. First is Holt,
a newly homeless and starving man who breaks into a house where the Beetle is staying. Second
is Sydney Atherton, a successful scientist who is in love with Marjorie Lindon. Ms. Lindon is the
narrator in the third book, where she depicts her engagement to Paul Lessingham and her
eventual capture by the Beetle. The fourth book is taken from the case-book of Mr. Champnell,
who accompanies Atherton and Lessingham on their mission to save Marjorie from the Beetle.
Each of these allow the read to gain unique insight into the Beetle and its mannerisms. Most
unique throughout all of the books is the depiction of the Beetles sex. Holt especially has a hard
time deciding whether the beetle is female or male. He at first assumes her to be a man, saying,
that it was impossible such a creature could be feminine(53). Later, however, he wonders I
could have by any possibility blundered, and mistaken a woman for a man; some ghoulish

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example of her sex, who had so yielded to her depraved instincts as to have become nothing but
a ghastly reminder of womanhood(61). However, from this point on, Holt still uses the pronoun
he. His description of the beetle is gruesome, calling her supernaturally ugly, her face an
amazing mass of wrinkles with blubber lips, none of which are phrases that would be used to
describe any kind of feminine being(53). Here, the confusion stems from his pre-conceived
notion of gender roles. In this scene, the beetle has captured and sexually assaulted him, so Holt
assumed her to be a man. There is no way, in Holts mind, that a woman could yield such power
over him. The beetle is an example of literal androgyny, or even an example of gender on a
spectrum as opposed to the traditional binary.
Feminism,or more specifically, feminist sexuality, is a concept heavily challenged in The
Beetle. In this society, women were taught to be obedient wives and mothers. There is an
underlying assumption in the text that women should not have power or any kind of overt desire.
The only woman who illustrates these is the Beetle, who is deemed as a disgusting shadow of
femininity. This is further proven by Marjories fate: when she tries to wield power and help find
the Beetle, she is captured and defeminized all together. When Paul and Sydney go to find her,
they discover that she had been stripped naked, dressed in mens clothing, and the Beetle has cut
off all of her hair. This kind of cross-dressing, though unwillingly done, can be seen as a warning
to women who attempt to be independent in their patriarchal society. Victoria Margee, author of
Both in Mens Clothing: Gender, Sovereignty and Insecurity in Richard Marshs The Beetle,
says that her capture and rape can be blamed on her desire for masculinity. In this society,
women who claimed political and sexual rights for women, called New Women(74), were seen
as a kind of transexual. If they desired any kind of freedom outside of their gender roles, it was

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assumed that they wanted to be male. This is the result of pre-existing gender ideals and the fear
of anything that falls outside of the norm.
While Margee believes that Marjorie is the New Woman in the novel, but W. C.Harris
and Dawn Vernooy, authors of Orgies of Nameless Horrors: Gender, Orientalism, and the
Queering of Violence in Richard Marshs The Beetle, disagree. They believe that she may, to
some extent, have a desire to be politically independent, but they point out that she only does so
in order to gain attention from her fianc, Paul Lessingham. They offered Dora Grayling, another
female character, as a possibility, but she too uses her position and money in order to try to win
Sydney Athertons heart. (It eventually works, and they marry at the end of the novel.) However,
they point out that the Beetle is by far the most dangerous and destructive female figure(348).
The only woman in the novel that would be considered a New Woman would be the Beetle
herself, if we are reading the text so that she is fully female. The Beetle, if she does anything,
claims her own sexual rights. It is hinted that she rapes Holt, Lessingham, and Marjorie in an
attempt to gain power and get her vengeance on Paul. She uses her sexuality as a source of
power and not as a bargaining chip in a relationship, again blurring the gender lines because
Victorian women were not supposed to have sexual desire.
Gender roles were seen as rigid, unwavering positions. The novel, however, questions
these roles by the repetition of the phrase play the man, which was a Victorian phrase similar to
todays man up or be a man. While this was a common phrase at the time of the novels
publication, it is repeated so often that it calls attention to the idea of gender being a
performance. The men in the story must perform their gender roles as stereotypical men. For
example, Holt, who was most obviously emasculated in the novel, uses the phrase when he first

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encounters the Beetle. However, during the sexual assault, he says, for the time I was no longer
a man; my manhood was merged into his. I was, in the extremest sense, an example of passive
obedience.(54) This statement is a kind of castration. He loses his manhood to the powerful
Beetle, a woman who plays the man more than any of the male figures in the novel. Kelly
Hurley, author of The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, And Degeneration At The Fin De
Sicle, states that, Aggressive feminine desire is portrayed by the novel as a devouring force
which emasculates its male object and literally dehumanizes the sexualized female(141). The
Beetles desire, personified as her transmutation, is what makes her so truly terrifying.
The Beetle preys on both men and women, and even with the gender confusion, this hints
at several homosexual encounters. She captured Lessingham and raped him as a female, but Holt
was under the impression that the Beetle was a male when he was violated. While there are
deceptions of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, it is the homosocial relationships
that drive the plot, and by extension, the society in which this novel takes place. The power
struggle between Paul and Sydney over Marjorie is the conflict that causes her abduction. They
are both vying for her affection and her attempt to save Paul leads her to entering the house
where the Beetle takes her. Hurley states that, the two rivals Atherton and Lessingham snarl and
snap at each other over Marjorie because they both desired her. Harris and Vernooy, however,
see their competition as homoerotic. They believe that Athertons reverence for Lessingham as a
politician can be read as homosexual desire. Harris and Vernooy commented on the fact that
Atherton refers to Lessingham as well-hung, and that even in that time, that was still

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considered a sexual term. If read in this way, the novel can be focused on Athertons jealousy
because he has sexual desires for Lessingham, not Marjorie.
The novel focuses on the signifiers and the way that they are challenged. One of the most
important signifiers in the role of author. It is assumed that an author is someone who writes a
piece of work, but The Beetle challenges this. While Champnell and Athertons books are
definitely written by their own hand, Holt and Marjories are not, causing their reliability to be
brought into question. Because Holt died during the novel, his piece was compiled by what he
told Marjorie and Atherton. Therefore, there is no way that he can prove or disprove any of the
statements made. Marjories book was written in her own hand, but, as many critics have pointed
out, it was compiled from her journals after her encounter with the Beetle. In Champnells
record, the readers learn that after she was saved from the Beetle, she went into a semi-catatonic
state, where she wrote these entires over and over. Because of her trauma and memory loss, she
too could be considered an unreliable narrator. However, these are both supposedly the authors
of their specific books. Authorship is not just written by ones own hand, but can be other
variations as well.

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Works Cited
Harris, W. C., and Dawn Vernooy. "'Orgies Of Nameless Horrors': Gender, Orientalism, And The
Queering Of Violence In Richard Marsh's The Beetle." Papers On Language And
Literature: A Journal For Scholars And Critics Of Language And Literature 48.4 (2012):
338-381. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
Hurley, Kelly. The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, And Degeneration At The Fin De Sicle.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.
Margee, Victoria. "'Both In Men's Clothing': Gender, Sovereignty And Insecurity In Richard
Marsh's The Beetle." Critical Survey 19.2 (2007): 63-81. MLA International
Bibliography. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.