- The Bad Seed
infobox Book |
name = The Bad Seed
image_caption= Cover of a reprint edition.
language = English
Rinehart & Company
April 8, 1954
media_type = Print (
pages = 247 pp (reprint edition)
isbn = ISBN 978-0060795481 (reprint edition)
"The Bad Seed" is a 1954 novel by
William March, nominated for the 1955 National Book Award for Fiction. It was the last major work written by March, and, although published in his lifetime, its enormous critical and commercial success was largely realized after his death, one month after publication. The novel was adapted into a successful and long-running Broadway play by Maxwell Andersonand an Academy Award-nominated film directed by Mervyn Leroy.
The central character of the story is Christine Penmark, a young mother who finds out that her eight-year-old daughter, Rhoda, is a murderer. Prompted by strange dreams and her landlady's dalliance in psychiatric theories, Christine begins to wonder if she's an adopted child. She eventually figures out that she is actually the sole surviving daughter of "The Incomparable Bessie Denker," a well-known (fictional)
serial killer. Bessie Denker's career is based very roughly on the real-life careers of Belle Gunnessand other such s. The description of her execution in the electric chairis based on that of Ruth Snyder.
Rhoda is portrayed as a sociopath, although the term was not widely used at the time. Like her grandmother, she has no
conscienceand will kill if necessary to get whatever she wants, whether that be a penmanship medal she felt she should have won, the silence of a janitor who knows more than she wants him to or the desire to possess an opal pendant. By the time Christine puts the truth together, Rhoda has already killed three people (the old lady who was going to leave her a snowglobe, Claude Daigle, and Leroy the janitor) and one puppy. An adept manipulator, she can easily charm adults while eliciting fear and repulsion from other children, who can sense something wrong with her.
Once her mother has come to the correct conclusions, she has to wrestle with a terrible dilemma. As young as Rhoda is, there are no guarantees that any arrangements made to confine her will prove permanent, and there would be a huge glare of publicity. At the same time, Christine knows full well that Rhoda will certainly kill again and again. Christine decides to give Rhoda a lethal dose of sleeping pills and then commits
suicidewith a revolver. However, Rhoda is rescued by a neighbor in time to get to the hospital; at the end of the book, she is alive and well, with no one the wiser as to her true nature.
The play was adapted by
John Lee Mahinfor the screenplayof a 1956 movie directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Paul Wendkosdirected the 1985 television adaptation of "The Bad Seed". The ending of the 1956 film was changed from the novel in order to comply with the Hays Code; Rhoda is struck and killed abruptly by lightningwhen she goes back to the scene of her crime to retrieve the medal, while Christine survives her suicide attempt. The 1985 television moviekept the novel's original ending.
Plans to do a second remake, with
Eli Rothas director, were scrapped.
*imdb title|id=0048977|title=The Bad Seed (1956)
*imdb title|id=0088766|title=The Bad Seed (1985)
* [http://www.nationalbook.org/nbawinners.html The National Book Foundation's List of awards by year.]
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