Markheim

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"Markheim"
Author Robert Louis Stevenson
Language English
Genre(s) Horror
Published in The Broken Shaft: Unwin’s Christmas Annual
(ed. H. Norman)
Publication type Collection
Publisher London: T. Fisher Unwin
Media type Print
Publication date December 1885

"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 late one Christmas Day in an antique store, presumably in London during the mid 1880s. A man named Markheim has come even though the store is officially closed, and the rather shady dealer points out that whenever he comes to visit after hours, it is usually to privately sell a rare item, claiming it to be from a late uncle's collection he inherited. The dealer hints his suspicions that more likely Markheim stole these items, although it hasn't stopped him from purchasing them, usually for less an amount than what his client asked for. Markheim visibly flinches at the dealer's not-so-subtle insinuations, but claims that he has not come to sell anything this time, but rather to buy a Christmas present for a woman he will soon marry, implying she is well off. Though somewhat incredulous, the dealer suggests a mirror as a gift, but Markheim takes fright at his own reflection, claiming that no man wants to see what a mirror shows him. Markheim seems strangely reluctant to end the transaction, but when the dealer insists that his visitor must buy or leave, the man consents to stop tarrying and review more goods. When the dealer turns his back to select another item, Markheim pulls out a knife and stabs him to death.

Surrounded by mirrors and ominously ticking clocks, and with only a candle to light up the dark shop, Markheim spends some minutes recovering his nerve when he hears someone moving about upstairs, though he knows the dealer's maidservant has taken the day off and no one should be there. He reassures himself that the outer door is locked, then searches the dealer's body for keys and goes to the upper rooms where the dealer lived to look for money, which he intends to use to start a business. As he searches for the right key to open the dealer's safe, 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 who been out with her lover, has left him early and is returning to the store, so Markheim had best hurry or face the consequences, i.e. exposure, arrest, and eventually death by hanging. He also offers to show Markheim the right key to open the safe, although he also predicts that Markheim's business will not be successful. Indeed, the stranger infers that much of Markheim's life has been unsuccessful, consisting of gambling and petty theft. Instead of continuing to loot the house, 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 turning himself in, though he knows it will cost him both his freedom and his life. The face of the stranger undergoes a "wonderful and lovely change", full of "tender triumph", as he disappears. Markheim opens the door and tells the servant, "You had better go for the police; I have killed your master."

Adaptations[edit]

  • The radio drama anthology series, The Weird Circle, adapted the story for broadcast on 20 May 1945.
  • An episode of the 1950s radio drama anthology The Hall of Fantasy was adapted from "Markheim".
  • An episode of the 1950s radio drama Dragnet titled "The Big In-Laws" quotes the story.
  • A 1953 episode of "Theatre Royal[disambiguation needed]," a BBC radio series broadcast on NBC in the United States, with Laurence Olivier as Markheim and Abraham Sofaer as The Stranger.
  • It was dramatized as the third episode of the fifth season of the television series Suspense in 1952. The episode was titled "All Hallows Eve" and starred Franchot Tone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Italian composer Carlo Deri composed a one-act opera, “Markheim”, for which he created a libretto freely inspired by the story; it was premiered in 2015, transcribed from the original as a chamber opera (Pisa, Italy, Teatro Verdi, 18 April 2015).[3]
  • The artist Ken Currie produced an etching entitled 'Markheim'[4] in 2015 and critics have referenced the story in relation to his art.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean (ed. H. Norman), Unwin’s Christmas Annual, London: T. Fisher Unwin, December 1885
  2. ^ "Carlisle Floyd - Markheim - Opera". boosey.com. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "Carlo Deri - Markheim - Recitar Cantando in un atto liberamente tratto dall'omonimo racconto di Robert Louis Stevenson". 
  4. ^ Gallery, Flowers. "Markheim - Shop - Flowers Gallery". Flowers Gallery. Retrieved 2016-11-12. 
  5. ^ "Ken Currie: Portrait with eye, hand and brain". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2016-11-12. 

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]