Failed Futurity: Performing Abortion in Merrill Denison’s Marsh Hay


Merrill Denison’s Marsh Hay culminates with the “piercing scream” of a pregnant woman as she intentionally miscarries. Originally published in 1923, the play did not see the stage until over fifty years later. This unique delay in production was likely due to the play’s sensitive themes, namely, pregnancy out of wedlock and abortion. Most critics focus on Marsh Hay’s dramatization of rural poverty and overlook the abortion. Ultimately, the play’s depiction of poverty and lost pregnancy are mutually constitutive because abortion functions as a symbol and symptom of the family’s failed futurity. Denison uses lost pregnancy to foretell the demise not only of an archetypal rural family but also of rural Canada if audiences do not accept pregnancy out of wedlock. I argue that Denison’s progressive conception of illegitimate pregnancy is constrained by the play’s use of abortion as a punishment for the community’s refusal to accept pregnancy out of wedlock.

This article “Failed Futurity: Performing Abortion in Merrill Denison’s Marsh Hay” originally appeared in Meanwhile, Home. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 232 (Spring 2017): 100-16.

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