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Leaky Bodies: Masculinity, Narrative and Imperial Decay in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle

Leslie Allin (University of Guelph)


While Richard Marsh’s fin-de-siècle gothic novel has most frequently been read in contemporary scholarship as a work that seeks to recuperate threatened imperial masculinity, this article argues that The Beetle works to subvert British representations of imperial imperatives. More preoccupied with the penetration of male bodies and the instability of narratives emerging from them than with their solidification, this novel uses the register of the male body to interrogate imperial authority and the physical prowess on which it was frequently based. Written in a period of increasing doubt about imperial stability and anxiety regarding threats from the East, The Beetle explodes traditional conceptions of masculinity while deploying fantasies of sexual subjugation to highlight an unruly porous, and unstable British imagination, underscoring that modes of sexual desire traditionally associated with the East are actually domestic. Deploying representations of both male bodies and male narratives as leaky and grotesque, Marsh’s novel critiques both the credibility of empire writing and British governmental legitimacy.

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