QCQ-10 English 420, Victorian Monsters

QCQ-10 English 420, Victorian Monsters


“On the right was the majestic seated figure of a goddess. Her hands were crossed upon her knees, and she was naked from her waist upwards. I fancied it was meant for Isis. On her brow was perched a gaily appareled beetle—that ubiquitous beetle!—forming a bright spot of colour against her coppery skin, —it was an exact reproduction of the creatures which were imaged on the carpet. In front of the idol was an enormous fiery furnace. In the very heart of the flames was an altar. On the altar was a naked white woman being burned alive. There could be no doubt as to her being alive, for she was secured by chains in such a fashion that she was permitted a certain amount of freedom, of which she was availing herself to contort and twist her body into shapes which were horribly suggestive of the agony which she was enduring, —the artist, indeed, seemed to have exhausted his powers in his efforts to convey a vivid impression of the pains which were tormenting her.”(230)


Marjorie, Sydney and Mr. Holt have returned to the vacant home where Mr. Holt first suffered hypnotism by The Beetle. Inside the house Mr. Holt again has a hypnotic episode and begins to wander away and Sydney follows in hopes that Holt will lead him to The Beetle. Marjorie is left alone and begins studying the interior while she anxiously awaits for Sydney to send someone to “hold watch and ward” with her. She begins to notice her surrounding in more detail. First the plush and beautiful rug: upon closer examination it has beetle imagery all over it, which causes Marjorie to begin feeling overwhelming revulsion. Then on the bed, upon which “a heap of rugs piled apparently indiscriminately” after the “manner of the Easterns,”she studies a white silk. She realizes it has the ghastly imagery on it, and underneath it The Beetle has been hiding all along!


The Beetle and imagery of it signify otherness and existential threat. In Cohen’s Thesis IV: The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference: “The monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us. In its function as dialectical Other…the monster is an incorporation of the Outside…The exaggeration of cultural difference into monstrous aberration …” Here we see the beetle, sacred in one culture, viewed as the epitome of monstrous in another. The white silk print could be interpreted by Cohen’s Thesis V, The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible, for “The monsters [Isis, the idol, who sacrifices white women] are…representations of other cultures, generalized and demonized to enforce a strict notion of group sameness. The fears of contamination, impurity, and loss of identity..”; and Thesis VI, Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire, where “the monster also attracts. The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies [the exotic and bare breasted goddess and the bound naked white woman]: the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing as a temporary egress from constraint.”

Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Internet resource.

Marsh, Richard, and Julian Wolfreys. Broadview Editions: The Beetle, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont., 2004, pp. 230.

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