Markheim

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

"Markheim" is a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, originally prepared for the Pall Mall Gazette in 1884, but published in 1885 in The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean as part of Unwin's Christmas Annual. [1] The story was later published in Stevenson's collection The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887).

Plot summary[edit]

The story opens in an antique store, with Markheim wishing to buy a Christmas present for a woman he will soon marry. The dealer presents him with a mirror but Markheim takes fright at his own reflection, claiming that no man wants to see what a mirror shows him. Markheim is strangely reluctant to end the transaction, but when the dealer insists that Markheim must buy or leave, Markheim consents to stop tarrying and review more goods. The dealer turns his back to replace the mirror, and Markheim pulls out a knife and stabs him to death.

Markheim spends some minutes recovering his nerve, when he hears someone moving about upstairs, though he knows the servant has taken the day off and no one should be there. He reassures himself that the outer door is locked, then searches the dead body for keys and goes to the upper rooms where the dealer lived to look for money. As he searches, he hears footsteps on the stairs, and a man opens the door and asks, "Did you call me?"

Markheim believes the stranger is the Devil. Though he never identifies himself, the stranger is clearly supernatural; he says that he has watched Markheim his whole life. He tells Markheim that the servant has left her friends early and is returning to the store, so Markheim had best hurry. Rather than continue looting, however, Markheim tries to justify his life and conduct to the stranger, entering into a discussion of the nature of good and evil. The stranger refutes him on every point, and Markheim is at last obliged to admit that he has thrown his life away and turned to evil.

The servant returns, and as she knocks on the door the stranger advises Markheim that he can entice her in by telling her that her master is hurt, then kill her and have the whole night to ransack the house. Markheim retorts that if he has lost the love of good, he still hates evil, and can still do one worthwhile thing by ending his life. At the end of the conversation when he refuses to kill the maid and continue ransacking the house, the face of the stranger undergoes a "wonderful and lovely change", full of "tender triumph", and the stranger disappears. Markheim opens the door and tells the servant, "You had better go for the police; I have killed your master."

Adaptations[edit]

  • The story was dramatized for television as an episode of the anthology series Screen Directors' Playhouse (1955-56); Ray Milland starred as Markheim and Rod Steiger portrayed the Stranger.
  • It was also dramatized for the television version of Suspense. The episode was the third episode of the fifth season in 1952. It was titled "All Hallows Eve" and starred Franchot Tone.
  • An episode of the 1950s radio drama The Hall of Fantasy was adapted from "Markheim".
  • An episode of the 1950s radio drama Dragnet titled "The Big In-Laws" quotes the story.
  • Carlisle Floyd adapted the story into a one-act opera as a vehicle for Norman Treigle; it was premiered in 1966.[2]
  • In 2009, a reading of the story by Hugh Bonneville was broadcast on BBC Radio 7.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean (ed. H. Norman), Unwin’s Christmas Annual, London: T. Fisher Unwin, December 1885
  2. ^ http://www.boosey.com/pages/opera/moreDetails.asp?musicId=6304

Sources[edit]

  • Harman, Claire. Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. HarperCollins (2005): New York. ISBN 0-06-620984-6

External links[edit]