A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Saturday Shorts Week 20
Welcome to our weekend series for 2014. Every Saturday this year one of our staff will suggest a favorite short story from the library’s collection, all of them a great choice for quick weekend reading.
‘Know me!’ cried Markheim. ‘Who can do so? My life is but a travesty and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature. All men do; all men are better than this disguise that grows about and stifles them.’
It’s Christmas day and the thief Markheim has just maneuvered his way into an antique store. “I seek a Christmas present for a lady,” he claims. But when the poor beguiled shop owner holds up a beautiful old hand mirror as a suggestion, Markheim is aghast at his own reflection. What follows is something like a quick summary of Crime and Punishment, as Markheim struggles first with his victim, then his own conscience, and finally maybe even with the devil itself.
There’s a moral to it in the end. Hell, you might even call it a happy ending, but it’s still a rather dark and unusual Christmas story. It packs a fair amount of violence and nastiness into just twenty pages. It has a distinct horror haunted atmosphere, and Stevenson conjures the dread and defeat of a guilty conscience with unnerving skill.
No, “Markheim” is not the equal of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (in my opinion the greatest of all horror stories) but it explores a similar theme with similar insight, as we watch Markheim quickly broken into disparate personalities—the criminal and the penitent—and forced to make a choice between the two.
You’ll find the story in our copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales. You could hardly do better next time you’re in the mood for something dark and frightful.