With the temporary closure of the museum, our book group has turned its attention to books inspired by our Special Collections. Our Volunteer Coordinator Rob Davies reviews last month’s Rural Reads Plus choice, Richard Marsh’s The Beetle. Please join us in January to discuss our next book, Annie Proulx’s Shipping News. For more info, see our book group webpages.
For the month of November our book group Rural Reads Plus read The Beetle by Richard Marsh. The Beetle was published in 1897 (the same year as Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and was an instant hit. It tells the story of a mysterious ancient creature haunting the streets of London, told by four different narrators.
The reader’s first meeting is with Richard Holt, a clerk who has fallen on hard times and is in need of shelter and warmth who clambers through an open window. The reader is then swept into a tale of romance, deceit and mystery which culminates in a thrilling chase across the country.
As a whole the group admitted that they enjoyed the first and last narrative of the book, but the two narratives in the middle were rather slow and cumbersome.
Our Librarian Liz revealed some hidden treasures from our special collections relating to Richard Marsh, which included original drafts of The Beetle and two photographs of the man himself. We were all astounded by Marsh’s incredibly small hand writing that densely filled the pages, and there were also a few comments on his rather robust size! It always amazing to come into contact with original drafts and notes, as you really get a sense of the authors thinking and thought patterns.
The Beetle is a classic example of a Victorian sensationalist novel; it brings the unknown mysteries of our ancient past into our cities, streets and homes. It is evident that Marsh was inspired by literary greats such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins, as well as popular contemporary themes like that of the railway and mysteries from abroad. Unfortunately it is usually known as the book that was published in the same year as Dracula and initially outsold it. I believe it should be remembered for its sensationalist tale and rather curious plot.