Gender, Money and Property in the Ghost Stories of Charlotte Riddell
This article explores Riddells representational strategies around gender: in particular her male narrators and her female characters made monstrous by money. It argues that Riddell, conscious of social prohibitions on financial knowledge in women, employs male protagonists to subversive effect, installing in her stories a feminine wisdom about the judicious use of wealth. Her narratives identify the Gothic potential of money to dehumanise, foregrounding the culpability of economic arrangements in many of the horrors of her society. While they contain pronounced elements of social critique, they ultimately however defend late-Victorian capitalism by proff ering exemplars of the ethical financial practice by which moneys action is to be kept benign.
Marsh’s The Datchet Diamonds (1898) weaves together crime and romance elements with a financial plot concerning stock market speculation. Drawing on New Economic Criticism, this chapter argues that the novel is fascinatingly ambivalent in its treatment of speculation, appearing to condemn it as dishonourable and criminal while surreptitiously endorsing the very risk-taking behaviour on which it relies. The novel’s ‘decent-man-tempted’ protagonist is rendered attractive to readers through his willingness coolly to stare down danger and play the odds, putting him in uncomfortable proximity to the models of criminal masculinity that the text presents. As a crime thriller, The Datchet Diamonds works by soliciting readerly enjoyment of exposure to risk: as such, it reveals the limitations of crime scholarship that has focused too narrowly upon ‘ideologically conservative’ detective fiction, pointing instead to the willingness of readers to identify with transgressor-protagonists, to see laws broken and social hierarchies questioned.
This collection of essays seeks to question the security of our assumptions about the fin de siècle by exploring the fiction of Richard Marsh, an important but neglected professional author. Richard Bernard Heldmann (1857–1915) began his literary career as a writer of boys’ fiction, but, following a prison sentence for fraud, reinvented himself as ‘Richard Marsh’ in 1888. Marsh was a prolific and popular author of middlebrow genre fiction including Gothic, crime, humour, romance and adventure, whose bestselling Gothic novel The Beetle: A Mystery (1897) outsold Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Building on a burgeoning interest in Marsh’s writing, this collection of essays examines a broad array of Marsh’s genre fictions through the lens of cutting-edge critical theory, including print culture, New Historicism, disability studies, genre theory, New Economic Criticism, gender theory, postcolonial studies, thing theory, psychoanalysis, object relations theory and art history, producing innovative readings not only of Marsh but of the fin-de-siècle period. Marsh emerges here as a versatile contributor to the literary and journalistic culture of his time whose stories of shape-shifting monsters, daring but morally dubious heroes, lip-reading female detectives and objects that come to life helped to shape the genres of fiction with which we are familiar today. Marsh’s fictions reflect contemporary themes and anxieties while often offering unexpected, subversive and even counter-hegemonic takes on dominant narratives of gender, criminality, race and class, unsettling our perceptions of the fin de siècle.
The introduction to the volume sets Richard Marsh in his historical context and argues that our understanding of late-Victorian and Edwardian professional authorship remains incomplete without a consideration of Marsh’s oeuvre. The introduction discusses Marsh as an exemplary professional writer producing topical popular fiction for an expanding middlebrow market. The seeming ephemerality of his literary production meant that its value was not appreciated by twentieth-century critics who were constructing the English literary canon. Marsh’s writing, however, deserves to be reread, as its negotiation of mainstream and counter-hegemonic discourses challenges our assumptions about fin-de-siècle literary culture. His novels and short stories engaged with and contributed to contemporary debates about aesthetic and economic value and interrogated the politics of gender, sexuality, empire and criminality.