Exhibition tells story of Crawley author’s creepy tales

Richard Marsh

Richard Marsh's novel The Beetle

The life and works of Richard Marsh – a celebrated bestselling author at the turn of the 19th century but largely forgotten today – is the subject of an exhibition by Sussex researcher Dr Graeme Pedlingham at Crawley Library.

Richard Marsh’s Gothic tale The Beetleoutsold even Dracula by Bram Stoker (both were published in 1897), while Marsh’s crime thrillers led to comparisons with Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins, who penned the classic chiller The Woman in White.

But Marsh’s fin de siècle celebrity was short-lived. While Stoker, Conan Doyle and Collins are still known today as masters of their genres, the mysterious Marsh (who lived and worked for 20 years in Three Bridges) and his novels slipped into relative obscurity by the 1930s.

Now, the exhibition – a collaboration between Crawley Library and the University of Sussex – aims to rediscover the author’s work and celebrate his local connections.

Dr Pedlingham, who led the project, says: “Marsh’s reputation as a major author of the period is just starting to be re-established, and this project represents a fantastic opportunity to introduce him as a key figure in Crawley's cultural landscape.

“Marsh was a master of genre fiction, writing in many different modes. Most famously he produced several very popular Gothic novels, not only The Beetle, but also The Goddess: A Demon (1900) and The Joss: A Reversion (1901). But he also wrote comedies, romances and crime fiction, often blurring genres. He was a real innovator in blending the comic and horrific, for instance.

“But primarily he was a writer that was able to produce real emotional connections with his readers, in ways equal to earlier, more recognisable greats of the sensation novel such as Wilkie Collins.”

During the summer the project will see Dr Pedlingham attempting to discover the location of Marsh's house in Three Bridges while Crawley Library will host, among other activities, a ‘read-off’ between Marsh’s The Beetle and Stoker’s Dracula.

The exhibition will be launched at a special event at Crawley Library on 9 May that will include music, performances of excerpts from Marsh’s work by performers from local theatre group Pitchy Breath, and discussions with leading scholars. The exhibition continues in Crawley Library until 9 August.

Tickets for the launch evening are available from Crawley Library or online at

The project is one of the collaborative partnerships that form the University’s Culture Rich scheme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to enable academics and organisations to work together to the benefit of local cultural heritage.

Other projects include telling the story of Kent’s “Secret Army”, recruited to help repel a possible Nazi invasion, and the life and work of Sussex-born artist Keith Vaughan and the lives of servants in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

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Posted on behalf of: University of Sussex
Last updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013