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Maria Marten


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AT: Murder in the Red Barn; The Murder of Maria Marten A: Anon. Pf: 1828, Mile End?; earliest recorded production 1840, London Pb: 1928 G: Melodrama in 2 acts; prose S: Polstead, Suffolk, and environs, Corder's London home, and a condemned cell, 1827–8 C: 5m, 9f, extrasMaria Marten is a poor but pretty country girl in Suffolk. Since she dreams of a better life than drudgery on the farm, she is delighted when the gypsy Crazy Nell foretells that she will be wooed by a rich gentleman. In fact, Nell is plotting revenge on the local squire's son William Corder, who had seduced and then abandoned Nell's sister. When Nell tells Corder that Maria is in love with him, her plan is complete. Corder meets Maria on her way to the country fair, seduces her, and, when she becomes pregnant, abandons her. Afraid that his father may learn the truth, Corder poisons the baby and murders both Maria and Nell. Before she dies, however, Nell is able to name Corder as her killer. The crime might still have remained undiscovered, but Maria's mother's dreams prompt Maria's father to search in the Corders' Red Barn. When Maria's body is discovered, the police are called. The police officer, who is Nell's brother, arrests Corder, who is eventually hanged for his triple murder.

AT: Murder in the Red Barn; The Murder of Maria Marten A: Anon. Pf: 1828, Mile End?; earliest recorded production 1840, London Pb: 1928 G: Melodrama in 2 acts; prose S: Polstead, Suffolk, and environs, Corder's London home, and a condemned cell, 1827–8 C: 5m, 9f, extras

Maria Marten was perhaps the most sensational, and therefore one of the most popular, 19th-century melodramas. Based on a true story (although heavily distorted), it was adapted many times for the stage. Now hard to take seriously with its stereotypical characterization and extraordinary coincidences, it continued the domestic murder tradition of Arden of Faversham and A Yorkshire Tragedy, and elements of the story re-emerge in the sophisticated narrative of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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