Richard Marsh (1857 -1915) was the pseudonym of the Victorian English author Richard Bernard Heldmann. He was one of the most popular writers of the nineteenth century who wrote prolifically through the Edwardian period.
Heldmann was born in London, 12th October 1857. His father was a lace merchant, Joseph Heldmann, and mother, Emma Marsh was the daughter of a lace manufacturer.
He began publishing fictions during the 1820s, in the form of adventure stories for magazines. One of the most important of these magazine’s was Union Jack, a boy’s weekly magazine. Heldmann was promoted to the position of co-editor of the magazine in 1882.
However, the publication of Union Jack ended abruptly in June 1883. Henceforth, Marsh never published fictions under his original name and took up the pseudonym “Richard Marsh” a few years later.
There have been several speculations as to why he took up his pseudonym, with some scholars suggesting that Heldmann wanted to hide his German – Jewish origins.
However, recent research reveals that he was actually sent to eighteen months of imprisonment in April 1884 for issuing a series of forged cheques in Britain and France in 1883. After being released from jail Heldmann took up his pseudonym and fictions by Richard Marsh started coming out in literary periodicals during 1888.
Marsh was particularly popular for his Gothic novels, with some of them outselling even Bram Stoker’s Dracula which appeared the same year.
Richard Marsh the Beetle
Marsh’s greatest success was one of his early novels, The Beetle (1897). It follows the story of a mysterious Oriental man who, in the process of seeking revenge on a British parliamentarian, causes destruction in London with his powers of hypnosis and shape – shifting.
The story is narrated from the perspectives of multiple characters, a technique used in many nineteenth century novels (just like those by Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker) to build in suspense.
Richard Marsh Beetle – What other novels did he write?
Apart from The Beetle, Marsh wrote several other horror novels that were immensely successful. The Goddess: A Demon written in 1990, narrated the story of an Indian sacrificial idol who comes to life with evil intent and once more, wrecks havoc in the lives of the people living in London.
The book was not as successful as The Beetle but it is Marsh’s one of the most recognized publications. It was serialized in Manchester Weekly Times and Salford Weekly Times in twelve installments between January 1900 to March 1900.
The Joss: A Reversion written in 1901, similarly follows the story of an Englishman who transforms himself into an Oriental idol, haunting Mary Blyth, his niece who comes to inherit his house.
Marsh’s style of writing was deeply engaging. Most of his novels followed a murder mystery, moving through a carefully crafted series of spine – chilling events and in the end revealing some sort of supernatural involvement that initiated the action of the plot.
Nineteenth century was the era of thrillers, horror and mystery literature capturing the market. With books like Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Yeti etc. to name a few along with cheap serial literature such as those published as “Penny dreadful,” (each volume cost a penny) thrillers and horror literature evolved greatly.
However, it was also the time when major portions of the Eastern world was still colonised by the European powers and a significant reflection of that colonial approach can be traced in Richard Marsh’s writing as well. The idea of the East or the Orient as mysterious, dark and sinister was extremely popular in the nineteenth century Britain and authors played upon that to gain readership.
Most of Marsh’s popular novels situate the figure from the East/Orient on the evil side portraying them as vengeful and murderous who appear in London to disturb the lives of innocent Englishmen.
In The Goddess: A Demon, Marsh even plays upon the idea of the “new woman” emerging at the turn of the century, rendering her evil and a threat to the British society, apart from villainizing the figure of the Indian itself. The colonial attitude hence becomes apparent.
List of Famous works of Richard Marsh
Other important works by Marsh are Daintree (1893), The Mahatma’s Pupil (1893), Crime and the Criminal (1897), A Second Coming (1900) etc. He also published stories in literary periodicals such as Household Words, Cornhill Magazine, The Strand Magazine and Belgravia.
Marsh was a master in mixing humour, crime, romance and the occult weaving out brilliant plots. One of Marsh’s most remarkable characters was Miss Judith Lee, a young teacher of deaf pupils, whose lip – reading abilities landed her into mysteries that she solved as a detective.
Marsh died from heart disease in Hayward Heath in Sussex on 9 August 1915. Several of his works were published posthumously.