The Beetle by Richard Marsh is a story of a shape-shifting creature that is identified as the Beetle that comes haunts and terrorizes a group of Englishmen and women during the Victorian Era. It is on a revenge mission for a crime that was committed by an Englishman, Paul Lessingham against an ancient Egyptian religion. It is stated that while Lessingham was a young adult (around 18 years old), he traveled to Egypt and was captivated by a songstress of Egyptian religion, had his first sexual experiences, and then killed the songstress because he felt that he was under her spell. However, as she was dying, she transformed into a demonic creature, which is referred as the Beetle by different characters in the novel.
The first account is provided by Holt, a clerk who has become homeless in London. Due to his change of status and facing starvation, he breaks into a house and is the first to encounter and become sexually assaulted by the Beetle who is staying at that house. The second account is provided by Sydney Atherton a scientist or inventor whose encounter with the monster is primarily because he is in love with Marjorie Lindon, the fiancee to Lessingham. Miss Lindon is the third narrator in the novel, and she provides her account of how she was captured by the Beetle and sexually exploited and assaulted (Marsh 12). The last account is provided by Augustus Champnell, an investigator who accompanied Arthenon and Lessingham to save Miss Lindon from the Beetle.
The four characters each presented a different encounter of how the Beetle was able to hypnotize, kidnap, and sexually assault both the male and female characters. The way the Beetle can dominate and force both the male and female characters to submit to its sexual will makes some of them believe that its sex is male, but it was discovered to indeed have female sex organs. The narration that is provided by the different authors provides the reader with a unique insight of the Beetle, her mannerisms, and how her acts greatly affected the social norms of the English people during the Victorian era. In particular, this chapter will focus on how sexual exploitation by the Beetle on different male characters in the novel (Robert Holt and Paul Lessingham), affects the perspective of masculinity as was depicted in the Victorian era.
As has been stated before, The Beetle is a novel that was narrated by four different characters each giving a unique interaction between the shape-shifting monster and a certain character in the novel. Robert Holt is the first narrator in the novel. He is a former clerk, but due to unfortunate events in his life, he has become homeless and is in dire need of basic needs such as food and shelter. He finds what appears to be an empty house and gains access to it through an open window. Unfortunately for him, the occupant of this house is the Beetle, and therefore he becomes the first victim of this shape-shifting monster.
Even though the Beetle sexually assaulted Holt, he is unable to depict whether it is male or female. At first, he assumes that the monster was a man because due to the social norms and his beliefs, he found it impossible to accept that the creature that had assaulted him could be feminine. However, later on, as he narrates the sexual encounters, he holds the possibility that maybe what attacked him was indeed female. Various factors make him have a hard time accepting that the Beetle is female.
Firstly, even after Holt admits that the Beetle is highly likely to be a female instead of a male, he continues to use the pronoun he in his narration. The reason for this is that, according to Holt, and most men during the Victorian ear is that he believed that, no woman could yield more power than him, and therefore dominate him as was the case when he encountered the Beetle. The social norm at that time was that women were submissive, and they did not have sexual desires. However, in this case, the Beetle had managed to have its way with him (Marsh 14). Therefore, he tries to convince himself that the Beetle is male because; if it is a male then, there was a possibility that another man could yield more power than him, and that men had sexual desires ( even if they were of a homosexual nature).
Secondly, he describes the Beetle as an ugly creature. During his narration, he calls on her supernaturally ugly. According to him, he had never seen such an ugly creature, and therefore cannot compare her ugliness to any living being that he knew of at that time. He states that, her face was covered with a mass of wrinkles, and that she has blubber lips (Marsh 14). Based on the description that Holt provides in his narration, and the expected feminine features of women during the Victorian age, the reader can see why Holt remained in a state of denial about the gender of the Beetle. The ideal Victorian woman was expected to be pure, chaste, refined, and modest. In addition to that, they had etiquette and manners. None of these descriptions or characteristics can be used to define the Beetle, and therefore it shows why Holt felt that the Beetle was indeed a man, despite the sexual experience that he had with her.
Using the narration that has been provided by Holt, the reader gains a new insight of how the sexual trauma affected his understanding of masculinity as was depicted in the Victorian era. Holt is a representation of the fears that most men had during the period when this book was written. The English societys norms were fast changing as people were engaging in homosexual acts. There was also a shift of social structure as women were seen to be taking an active role especially in the political landscape, fear of unemployment, and most people were descending from the upper class to the lower class mainly due to urbanization.
It can be argued that Holt was a defeated man, and did not fit the description of a man in the Victorian era. The reasons for this is that he had lost his job, which had rendered him homeless and was facing starvation. He could not provide for himself and had resulted in criminal ways to find shelter and possibly food to eat (breaking into an empty house). His masculinity is further degraded by being sexually assaulted by a female. He is unable to recover from that experience and gain his manhood. Holt in his narration states that the most unique thing about the Beetle was her eyes, and he states that when he gazed into them, he felt that they cast a spell on him:
They seemed to be lighted by some internal radiance, for they shone out like lamps in a light-house tower. Escape them I could not, while, as I endeavored to meet them, it was as if I shriveled into nothingness.They held me enchained, helpless, spell-bound. I felt that they could do with me as they would, and they did. (Marsh, 14).
It seems as if he was spell-bound and there was nothing that he could do during that experience. He further states that the Beetle ripped its clothes and stared at his necked body in a way that he felt humiliated. The Beetle had shown power over him, and he felt that he had lost the ability to play the man a popular phrase during the Victorian times that meant to man-up.
The idea that Holt had of having a homosexual experience with the Beetle signifies that she had successfully been able to take advantage of his thoughts and control them. She had managed to make him submissive, and as a man give his sexual dominance to the Beetle. His situation can best be likened to that of a villain and his victim whereby; he normally tortures them for a long period, until them become submissive to all of his demands for survival purposes (Marsh 14). At this point, Holt felt that he was unable to overcome her hypnosis, and the only way that he was going to survive was if he became submissive to her sexual demands.
Paul Lessingham also presents a unique experience of how the trauma caused by the Beetle affected his notion of masculinity. Lessingham is an inspiring politician who first had an encounter with the Beetle while she was a songstress of an ancient Egyptian religion. The monster has come to England to seek its revenge against Lessingham because he killed and made her transform into a monster. Lessingham presents two types of characters that show how his encounter with the Beetle affects his masculinity. According to the description that is presented by Atherton, although he is a stoic and collected politician, he is as cold as an iceberg and dry as a stick (Marsh57). However, when he encounters the Beetle, his no-nonsense approach changes, and he behaves more or less like a hysterical woman. This is an interesting change of events and shows the impact that the encounter with the Beetle potentially had on the English male characters in this novel. The Beetle could transform a well-respected man in the society during the Victorian era to behave like a woman.
Lessingham tells Champnell of how he had been held captive by the Beetle twenty years earlier. However, he claims that what made it possible for the Beetle to capture and enslave him during that period was because he was suffering from a fever that he had gotten in Egypt. He nonetheless admits that he was captivated by the Beetle during their first experience:
It is the simple truth that her touch [had on me what I can only
describe as a magnetic influence. As her fingers closed upon my
wrist, I felt as powerless in her gasp as if she held me with bands of
steel. What seemed an invitation was virtually a command. I had to
stay whether I would or wouldn't (Marsh194).
At this point as a reader, one feels that Lessingham was providing a tale of seduction and describing his romance with the woman of songs. He even tells Champnell that; You will smile, - I should smile, perhaps, were I the listener instead of you (Marsh194). Lessingham also describes that during her encounter, he felt as if he was being hypnotized by her eyes when she was gazing at him.
It is important to point out that as Lessingham is providing the experience in detail to Champnell, there is a sense of both fascination and fear of the Beetles sexual power and prowess. The reason as to why it can be assumed that he was both fascinated and feared the sexual experience that he had with her was because when they first met, he was a young eighteen-year individual, who although was sexually active, was still a virgin (Marsh 194). In addition to that, he was an orphan, and therefore lacked appropriate guidance on sex education.
This made him highly susceptible to sexual exploitation by what can be considered as a dominant woman. He submits to the will of the songstress, and although he seemed to enjoy it, he convinces himself that he had been enslaved and therefore kills the woman who eventually turns into a monster. It may be true that he was being hypnotized and therefore could not escape from the songstress. However, there is also the possibility that, he knew that he could never have such sexual experiences back in England, and therefore decided to kill the woman as a way to help him forget his sexual experience in Egypt.
This is further supported by Lessingham decision to venture into politics over being involved with various women and being described as a romantic individual as is the case with Sydney Atherton. It is highly likely that he felt or knew that he would never experience such sexual adventures in England, and therefore became as was described by Atherton, a cold and dry politician. Therefore, his first encounter with the songstress traumatized his masculinity in regards to him being political potent but was considered impotent regarding his sexual relationships (Marsh 194). This is depicted by Marjorie, his fiancee, who states that according to her, she felt that women were Lessinghams weak point.
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