Mysterious Stranger (Literary Classics) Paperback – 1 Sep 1995
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About the Author
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), best known to the world by his pen-name Mark Twain, was an author and humorist, noted for his novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which has been called "the Great American Novel," and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876, among many others.
From the Back Cover
In his last years Mark Twain had become a respected literary figure whose opinions were widely sought by the press. He had also suffered a series of painful physical, economic, and emotional losses. The Mysterious Stranger, published posthumously in 1916 and belonging to Twain's "dark" period, belies the popular image of the affable American humorist. In this antireligious tale, Twain denies the existence of a benign Providence, a soul, an afterlife, and even reality itself. As the Stranger in the story asserts, "nothing exists; all is a dream".
What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
Top Customer Reviews
A Jumping Frog, a Bank-Note and a Sack of Gold
`The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' is a farce about betting and manipulation.
`The ₤1,000,000 Bank-Note' ridicules the awe of people for the `wealthy': `With a Bank-Note he had become one of the notorieties of the metropolis of the world.'
`The Man that corrupted Hadleyburg' has the same basic theme as `The Visit' by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The honor and the honesty of the principal citizens of a town are severely shaken by a sack of gold offered by an anonymous person.
The Mysterious Stranger
This story is, by far, the most important one in this bundle: a highlight in Mark Twain's work. It reveals unambiguously his remarkable, but cynical, vision on mankind, its Moral Sense and its future, and on politics and religion. His mouthpiece is none other than Satan.
For Mark Twain (Satan), `Man is a museum of diseases; he comes to-day and is gone to-morrow; he begins as dirt and departs as stench. He has the Moral Sense, which should enable him to distinguish good from evil.'
But with their Moral Sense, `the holy proprietors (are) paying wages only enough to keep brothers and sisters from dropping dead with hunger with work-hours of fourteen per day, little children and all. What have they done, that they are punished so? Nothing at all, except getting themselves born into a foolish race.'
On the political front, `the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and everyman will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities.Read more ›
I got a masterpiece instead.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane -- like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell -- mouths mercy and invented hell -- mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!..."
Mark Twain's narrative views on religion, faith, and humanity can be found in any number of his works, though I myself am only familiar with those presented in The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Helpful Hints for Good Living, and Letters from Earth. However, his critical presentation in The Mysterious Stranger is much darker than any I have read by him before. Although the story is told by Theodor, the narrative itself revolves around Satan and Satan's view of humanity. Much of the narrative itself is occupied with the sermons he delivers to the boys, which are aggressive and critical towards humanity, and often towards the morality the boys themselves are taught to respect. The kinds of ideas presented can leave readers wondering whether the character of Satan is really the nephew or the dominant figure, and allows them to question the motives of the foremost character in the novel. Is he truly a benevolent spiritual figure? Is he an evil entity set on wreaking havoc in the small community? And why, in light of their own doubts and misgivings about him, do the boys continue to associate with - indeed, seek out if possible - Satan?
The Mysterious Stranger is not the Mark Twain of Huck Finn, or even the Mark Twain of Helpful Hints; here is a much darker Twain intent not on amusing his audiences, but on expressing feelings of aggression and anger towards a mass that so often seems to perpetuate its own misery. While I found Satan's frequent aggrandizing sermons to be incredibly tedious I appreciated the glimpse of Twain that I had not seen before.
'The $1,000,000 Bank note' is almost surreal, or Marxist, the story of a derelict made an unwitting guinea pig by two elderly millionaires, curious to see what would happen to an honest but poor man in the possession of such an impractible note. The frightening fetishistic power of currency structures a somewhat creepily benevolent narrative, and the opening paragraphs audaciously cram a novel's worth of misfortune.
'The Man who corrupted Hadleyburg' is the masterpiece here, at once an unforgiving morality tale about the temptation of money on an incorruptible town, and a satire on the crippling effect of bogus social respectability. Twain's irony is at its most relentless here, mixing anger at elite hypocrisy with distaste for the savage mob mentality. The scenes of public justice are hilarious but terrifying; the unnamed man taking monstrous revenge on a whole town for a personal slight, exposing its shams by an experiment, could well be Twain himself.
The same could be said of the hero of his novella 'The Mysterious Stranger', Twain's last, posthumously published work. In this, an angel, Satan, nephew of his infernal namesake, comes to a late 16th century Austrian mountain village and systematically exposes the murderous herd instincts, moral deceptions and shabby pretensions of the human condition. Everything - war, religion, society, justice, family, human aspiration, childhood innocence - is ground down with misanthropic, sub-Swiftian satire.
'Stranger' is not an easy book to like. As an historical novel, it is an utter failure, with no attempt to understand the mindset, never mind the language, idiom or customs of an alien culture. As an allegory for the contemporary America in which Twain was writing, the book is indispensible, insightful, brave, bracing, honest, incredibly prescient, but monotonous, flatly written and exhausting. As a supernatural fable, the book has little sense of wonder or of the unknown, but in its story of a devil wreaking subversive havoc on a socially repressive culture by playing on their hypocritical terms, 'Stranger' does look forward to Bulgakov's more successful 'The Master and Margarita'.