The Sire de Maletroit’s Door by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1878 Read the rest of this entry »
The December stories organized solely by my personal tastes.
- ‘Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit’ by P.G. Wodehouse
- ‘The H Street Sledding Record’ by Ron Carlson
- ‘A Christmas Memory’ by Truman Capote
- ‘A Christmas Tree And A Wedding’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- ‘The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle’ by Arthur Conan Doyle
- ‘Christmas At Red Butte’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- ‘Christmas Eve’ by Maeve Brennan
- ‘One Christmas Eve’ by Langston Hughes
- ‘The Gift Of The Magi’ by O. Henry
- ‘Powder’ by Tobias Wolff
- ‘The Ledge’ by Lawrence Sargent Hall
- ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ by Dylan Thomas
- ‘The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding’ by Agatha Christie
- ‘The Christmas Wreck’ by Frank Stockton
- ‘At Christmas Time’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘Christmas Day In The Morning’ by Pearl S. Buck
- ‘The Little Match Girl’ by Hans Christian Andersen
- ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
- ‘Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor’ by John Cheever
- ‘The Burglar’s Christmas’ by Willa Cather
- ‘Papa Panov’s Special Christmas’ by Leo Tolstoy
- ‘The Beggar Boy At Christ’s Christmas Tree’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- ‘A New Year’s Gift’ by Guy de Maupassant
- ‘The Christmas Banquet’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- ‘The Best Christmas Ever’ by James Patrick Kelly
- ‘Christmas Eve’ by Guy de Maupassant
Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1885
The magic trick:
Filling the story with absurdly ornate sentences
Leave it to R.L. Stevenson to spoil a perfectly good Christmas premise by going on and on about the dual nature of man’s being. That is kind of his pet topic after all.
In “Markheim” we meet a murderer who has assured himself of spiritual approval but lives in terror of earthly judgment. He knows his acts are vile but trusts in the goodness of his soul within. Some kind of Christmas ghost (his conscience perhaps? the devil?) visits him and straightens him out.
The philosophical questions raised are interesting, and the man’s journey toward what is, surprisingly, a happy ending is fascinating. Those are not maybe the most original of ideas, though. No, what makes this story stand out – and what often draws me to Stevenson’s writing – is the remarkable quality of the prose. Stevenson writes with a certain elegant complication that I just love. One could accuse him of over-writing. The sentences often are so ornate as to be overbearing. But I love it. Certain paragraphs here could be excised from the story to exist as standalone poems. The writing is that lush. And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.
The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and stairs; on the bright suit of armor posted, halbert in hand, upon the landing; and on the dark wood carvings and framed pictures that hung against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was the beating of the rain through all the house that, in Markheim’s ears, it began to be distinguished into many different sounds. Footsteps and sighs, the tread of regiments marching in the distance, the chink of money in the counting, and the creaking of doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to the verge of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by presences.
The October stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.
- ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The River’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘A&P’ by John Updike
- ‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
- ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe
- ‘Nilda’ by Junot Diaz
- ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- ‘The Lady’s Maid’s Bell’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘Luella Miller’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
- ‘The Outcasts Of Poker Flat’ by Bret Harte
- ‘The Sutton Place Story’ by John Cheever
- ‘Premium Harmony’ by Stephen King
- ‘Paper Losses’ by Lorrie Moore
- ‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin
- ‘Three Players Of A Summer Game’ by Tennessee Williams
- ‘A Stroke Of Good Fortune’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
- ‘Awake’ by Tobias Wolff
- ‘In Greenwich, There Are Many Gravelled Walks’ by Hortense Calisher
- ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ by Stephen Crane
- ‘Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart’ by Kay Boyle
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1884
The magic trick:
The introductory section sends the reader’s imagination running into thoughts possibly even scarier than the story that follows
The framing device Stevenson uses here is quite common to British literature of the 19th century. A group of people gather for a normal night somewhere – in the case of “The Body Snatcher” that somewhere is local parlor – and a member of the group invariably winds up telling an old tale from his past. That old tale, in essence, is the short story.
Sometimes such a story-before-the-story seems cumbersome. It merely delays the plot for no good reason. Most times, of course, the author has a master plan in mind and thus the outer story does something special to cast the inner story in a new light.
In “The Body Snatcher,” Stevenson uses the outer story to generate an ominous tone and plenty of suspense before the inner story even begins. The reader sees, with the other men in the parlor, the effect the doctor’s mere name has on Fettes, and instantly starts to imagine a set of terrifying possibilities to explain the mystery. Stevenson has made his job infinitely easier. The inner story doesn’t have to any work; the reader has already scared himself with his own concocted backstories about Fettes and the doctor. With the tone set, the inner story need only supply the details. And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.
“What is his name?”
“Doctor Macfarlane,” said the landlord.
Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name “Macfarlane” twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.
“Yes,” said the landlord, “that’s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.”
Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.