Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Victorian Horror Author Re-Emerges from the Gloaming to Terrify Again: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Victorian Horror Author Re-Emerges from the Gloaming to Terrify Again: News

Article excerpt

An exhibition places Richard Marsh, author of The Beetle, in context. Matthew Reisz writes.

A largely forgotten horror and detective writer who created a female Sherlock Holmes and whose novel The Beetle easily outsold Bram Stoker's Dracula when they were both published in 1897 has been brought back to public attention thanks to the efforts of a researcher at the University of Sussex.

Richard Marsh (1857-1915) was originally called Richard Heldmann but changed his name after a conviction for fraud and lived quietly in Three Bridges - now part of Crawley - for almost 20 years. It was during this period that he became a hugely successful writer of many kinds of genre fiction.

The Beetle, serialised in 15 instalments in a magazine called Answers, tells the story of a shape-changing Egyptian creature that comes to London seeking revenge on a leading MP. It sold so well that, in 1910, Marsh's publishers felt able to call him "the most popular living author".

"It's a real page-turner," says Graeme Pedlingham, associate tutor in English at Sussex, "full of excitement and urgency, with train crashes, ancient Egyptian cults and human sacrifice. It's both gory and creaky, and certainly deserves to be right up there with Dracula for fans of horror and the Gothic. Dracula may have more cinematic potential, but The Beetle is more disturbingly ambiguous."

Equally striking was Marsh's creation of one of the earliest female detectives, Judith Lee - who, like Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in the pages of The Strand Magazine and is described by Dr Pedlingham as "independent, forceful and an expert in lip-reading and ju-jitsu". …

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