Saturday, August 20, 2011

#20: The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, Mark Twain

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
by Mark Twain
-born in America, 1835
-128 Pages
-more about Twain (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Born as Samuel Clemens in Florida, Twain left home at 18 to travel the world.
- He returned to captain a Mississippi riverboat for 4 years before heading west on a stage coach, filing absurdist travel stories for newspapers along the way.
- Chased out of San Francisco after reporting on a police chief, he hid in a mining town and overheard a yarn he turned into a successful story.
- After fame came (due to Tom Sawyer) he wrote and lectured extensively, and also founded a publishing house.
- A failed investment sent him to Europe to avoid creditors--a trip that saw the death of his daughter. His wife died soon after, leaving Twain mourning their loss.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
Written on hotel stationery while Twain was in Europe on the run from American creditors, soon after the death of his daughter, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is often cited as a work of bitter cynicism—a statement on America, to some, on the Dreyfus Case, to others—created by a weary author at the end of his career.

Others apprciate the work because it is, simply, Mark Twain at his best. The story of a mysterious stranger who orchestrates a fraud embarrassing the hypocritical citizens of "incorruptible" Hadleyburg. The novella is an exceptionally crafted work intertwining a devious and suspenseful plot with some of the wittiest dialogue Twain ever wrote. And like the most masterful literature, it subverts any notion of easy conclusion: is Hadleyburg ruined, or liberated? Is the mysterious stranger Satan, or a hero? Is this a book of revenge, or redemption? One thing is clear: this brilliant novella is a complex and compassionate consideration of the human character by a master at the height of his form.

My Impressions:
It's been many years since I've read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but Twain's writing still springs to life as being full of adventure and wry humor.  This novella combines delightful dialogue with an interesting story-line.  The themes and questions about character, rationalization and priorities is still applicable, though represented by near caricatures in the story.
Richards and his old wife sat apart in their little parlour--miserable and thinking.  This was become their evening habit now: the life-long habit which had preceded it, of reading, knitting, and contented chat, or receiving or paying neighbourly calls, was dead and gone and forgotten, ages ago--two or three weeks ago; nobody talked now, nobody read, nobody visited--the whole village sat at home, sighing, worrying, silent.
I can't say that the story induced deep thought in me, or that I contemplated the issues for very long, but I did enjoy the story and the writing.  I didn't find it to be bitterly cynical, although that may just illuminate my own level of cynicism more than anything else.  It has been amazing to me to find how different American literature from this era feels compared to its Russian counterpart.
...he could hear his microbes gnaw, the place was so still.


  1. You're making it way too hard to choose what novellas I'll read after I finish the women authors. I see you have two of the women authors coming soon on your list! I'll be interested to see how you like them. Excellent writers.

  2. I just started The Country of the Pointed Firs and am really loving it. Have you started Mathilda? It's seeming that I'm the only one who liked it, so I'm getting a little nervous that you won't like it either. Of course it's totally okay if you don't. We can still be friends. ;)

  3. Ha! I'm interested in reading Mathilda because earlier this year I read her mother's book--A Vindication of the Rights of Women. All through that book I felt like Mary Wollstonecraft was an angry woman yelling at me. She had some good points about education, but she elevated reason above everything.


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