“Why, you simple creatures, the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.”
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.
MARK TWAIN was born Samuel Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri, and raised in nearby Hannibal. After apprenticing as a printer, he left home at 18 to travel the world. He returned to captain a Mississippi riverboat for four years, then headed West on a stage coach, filing absurdist travel stories for newspapers along the way—using a river boater’s warning for shallow waters as his pen-name. Chased out of San Francisco after reporting on the police chief, he hid in a mining town and overheard a yarn he turned into a successful story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. His true fame came with his 1876 novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In demand, Twain wrote prolifically and lectured far and wide. He also founded a publishing house, publishing the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. But when an investment in an early typesetting machine failed, he fled the U.S. for Europe—a trip that saw the death of his daughter. His wife died soon thereafter. Twain overcame his financial troubles, but not the loss of his loved ones, and his last writings were dark works stretching beyond his homespun narrative to fantasy, science fiction, and scathing political commentary. He died in 1910.