Both in Men's Clothing: Gender, sovereignty and insecurity in Richard Marsh's The Beetle
Margree, Victoria (2007) Both in Men's Clothing: Gender, sovereignty and insecurity in Richard Marsh's The Beetle Critical Survey, 19 (2). pp. 63-81. ISSN 17522293
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Developed from doctoral research, this essay is an intervention into the recent body of scholarship on Richard Marsh’s 1897 gothic novel, The Beetle. Within the field of gothic literature studies, critical and new analyses of the novel (Hurley, 1996; Luckhurst, 2000; Wolfreys, 2004) have focused upon such issues as representations of the female body, Victorian interest in trance-states, and fears of ‘reverse colonisation’. The original contribution of this research was to foreground fresh topics as objects for future scholarship. Specifically these topics were: 1) the novel’s representation of its New Woman character and the ideological significance of the narrative device in which she is clothed as a man; 2) the novel’s depiction of urban degeneracy and male unemployment; 3) its ambivalent characterisation of its male ‘hero’; and 4) the significance of the unusual narrative structure of the novel. While some of these issues have been referred to in some of the existing critical works, they have not been the primary critical focus of those texts. Margree’s work presents an extended analysis of the significance of these issues, synthesising them into a fresh reading of the novel. The fundamental argument is predicated on close textual scrutiny of the novel’s devices of plot and narration, which formulate an equation between the proto-feminist and the male protagonist emasculated by unemployment. Further, this new reading proposes that both characters are deemed to be inadequate versions of the masculinity required to safeguard Britain’s future, judged improper subjects who cannot persist. The text will be a major point of reference for work on Marsh’s novel; and will also have relevance for work engaged more generally with the gothic fiction of the fin-de-siècle, or with late-Victorian representations of the New Woman.
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