The Beetle is a work of horror by a man who seems not in control of his own sexual hang ups.
The characters are mostly too perfect or, in one case, too crippled by a twenty year old attack to be other than cryptic or hysterical at all times. In his defense, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a beautiful young woman who was also a divine and immortal beetle.
Only a fellow called Atherton is exempt. He’s excitable, vengeful, and generally relatable in a way everyone is not. He’s an ass, but a normal and understandable one. He is also shown working on a horrifying chemical weapon which… is never used to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. It’s as if Chekhov forgot to fire his gun.
The villain, besides being indicted based on their ethnic appearance, has, when not a beetle, the body a handsome woman with the face of aging and preternaturally ugly man.
Also, nudity is surprisingly frequent for a novel from 1897. A man runs through the streets wearing only a cloak and everyone he meets notes he is naked beneath. When a young woman is forced to wear a man’s rags, the speaker notes that she must first have been forced to undress. Atherton catches a glimpse of the villainous beetle’s alluring feminine body before they transform.
And did I mention the rapes and orgies that preceded the sacrifice of (formerly) virginal white women by burning?
Also: brandy can cure almost all ills (and literally brings a man back from the dead, even if only for a moment).
Something happened to Mr. Marsh and I don’t care to know what.
In the meantime, better folk than I can comment on what this all says about gender roles, masculinity, and the end of empire.