Inspiration is the key!
British author Richard Bernard Heldmann has recently ‘experienced’ a brand new wave of popularity and interest in his work. As the Victorian age was drawing to a close, the writer who then chose to sign his works with the pseudonym Richard Marsh, was on top of his career and publicly regarded as one of the greatest novelists of his time. It is believed that his novel “The Beetle”, published in 1897, was more popular than Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. So, what happened afterwards? How come only some English Literature graduates would be able to identify Marsh’s profile as a novelist and his works too? Why is the casual reader not too familiar with Marsh?
Dr. Victoria Margree, researcher at the University of Brighton, has agreed to help us understand more about Marsh, his ‘forgotten’ novel, its destiny and it’s rediscovery in recent times.
Q. When and how did you first hear about this novel?
A. I first heard about Marsh and The Beetle about 8 years ago when I had been doing a lot of teaching on the ‘canonical’ gothic texts of the fin de siecle: Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, etc. A colleague at suggested I think about the way that the ‘canon’ was being expanded through the critical rediscovery of ‘lost’ texts, and suggested The Beetle. I found it an immediately fascinating and strange novel. More recently further novels and collections of short stories by Marsh have been republished so it is now possible to think about Marsh ‘beyond The Beetle’.
Q. Why do you think it drew attention upon its publication and why was it abandoned by the public at some point? Have you got any theories on this?
A. The Beetle was extremely popular upon first publication and remained so for many years, right into the first few decades of the twentieth century, in fact. There’s a story (whether true or not is I think unknown) that Marsh had a wager with Bram Stoker to see who could produce the most effective ‘spinechiller’ and that the result was The Beetle and Dracula (both 1897). The interesting thing is that viewed from the perspective of the first few decades of the twentieth century, Marsh actually won: sales of The Beetle were substantially higher than Dracula and in 1913 The Beetle was in its 15th impression and Dracula only its 10th (see Vuohelainen and Dalby). As your prompts suggest, this raises really interesting questions about what accounts for the radically divergent fates of the two novels later on in the century, with Dracula achieving iconic cultural status and The Beetle disappearing almost completely from visibility.
I’d like to thank Dr. Margree for her valuable contribute and for sharing her knowledge on the subject. Part 2 of this interview will soon be available in this blog!
If you’re interested in the subject, “Richard Marsh: re-reading the fin de siècle” is a one-day symposium which takes place at the University of Brighton on 20th July 2012.
You can download a FREE copy of “The Beetle” here for your Amazon Kindle.