VFRG 35: Richard Marsh

Richard Marsh
Research Guide by Minna Vuohelainen (2008)

Table of Contents


During a career which lasted from 1880 to his death in 1915, Richard Marsh (1857–1915) was a bestselling author of a number of popular novels and a regular contributor to the fiction papers of the fin de siècle. Marsh was born Richard Bernard Heldmann in St John’s Wood in North-Central London on 12 October 1857, the first child of lace merchant Joseph Heldmann (c. 1827–96), a German Jewish convert to Christianity, and Emma Marsh (c. 1830–1911), a lace-manufacturer’s daughter from Nottingham. Shortly after the birth of Richard Bernard, Joseph Heldmann became embroiled in large-scale bankruptcy proceedings  which  led  him  to  abandon  his  career  as  a  merchant  for  that  of  a schoolmaster, in which capacity he ran a school in Hammersmith in West London.

When, in 1880, Bernard Heldmann began to publish fiction, mainly boys’ school and adventure stories, in the devotional publications Quiver and Young England, the illustrated weekly Graphic, and the boys’ paper Union Jack, he may have been drawing on his personal experience of life at his father’s school. It was Union Jack, associated with two favourite boys’ writers of the time, W.H.G. Kingston (1814–80) and G.A. Henty (1832–1902), that provided Heldmann with his initiation into the literary life. Under Henty’s editorship, Heldmann quickly became a trusted contributor to this quality penny boys’ weekly, providing short and serial school and adventure stories. This early career reached its pinnacle in October 1882, when Henty promoted the precocious Heldmann to co- editorship of the weekly. However, in spring 1883 Heldmann’s contribution to the paper began to flag, until his editorship was abruptly terminated by Henty in June 1883. After 1883, Bernard Heldmann published no new fiction under his given name.

The reasons for Heldmann’s demise have only been discovered recently. Whether out of improvidence, greed or genuine hardship, Heldmann had been issuing forged cheques throughout much of 1883, moving from place to place in France and Britain, until he was finally apprehended by the police in February 1884. At the Maidstone Quarter Sessions in April 1884, he was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour. After his release, he adopted the pseudonym ‘Richard Marsh’, a combination of his own first name and his mother’s maiden name. As ‘Richard Marsh’, he began to publish fiction in 1888, producing 76 volumes and a wealth of short stories, and achieving popularity as a provider of adult genre fiction before his death from heart disease or heart failure at Haywards Heath in Sussex on 9 August 1915. Now best known for his bestseller The Beetle: A Mystery (1897), a rival of Dracula, Marsh also worked in the genres of crime, detection, thriller, popular romance, and humour.

While The Beetle is increasingly well known, scholarly work on Marsh is seriously hampered by the lack of indexing tools making his work accessible to researchers. This research guide is designed to alleviate this state of affairs: it provides scholars with access to an extensive bibliography of Heldmann/Marsh’s literary production. It further provides plot summaries of the author’s long fiction and brief generic classifications of his short fiction. However, this bibliography of materials on Heldmann/Marsh is unlikely to be comprehensive: such was the volume of the author’s literary production that the periodical section, in particular, is unlikely to be complete.

Bibliography: Literary Production, Plot Summaries, Short Story Collections and Secondary Sources

The Victorian Fiction Research Guide on Richard Marsh (No. 35) can be viewed and downloaded here (PDF format). This document includes the following: Bernard Heldmann’s literary production; Richard Marsh’s literary production; Plot Summaries of the Novels of Bernard Heldmann and Richard Marsh; Richard Marsh’s Short-Story Collections; Secondary Sources.