Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Carnival in Mark Twain's "Stirring Times in Austria" and "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg". (Articles)

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Carnival in Mark Twain's "Stirring Times in Austria" and "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg". (Articles)

Article excerpt

The publication of the 29 volume The Oxford Mark Twain in 1996 provided, both for the writers and critics involved in the project, and for its readers, an unusual opportunity for an overview and reassessment of the work Twain published during his lifetime. Essays like that written by Toni Morrison on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where she speaks eloquently of her responses to different "encounters" with the novel, focusing in particular on what she has come to see as "the silences that pervade it ... entrances, crevices, gaps, seductive invitations flashing the possibility of meaning. Unarticulated eddies that encourage diving into the novel's undertow" (Morrison xxxi, xxxiii, xxxvi), promise to become the critical lens through which a new generation of readers approach the text.

Another result of the project, however, has been to remind us of the original context in which some of Twain's best-known short fictions appeared. So Cynthia Ozick, in her introduction to the 1900 collection, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays, draws revealing comparisons between the title story and the little-known essay, "Stirring Times in Austria," which appears later in the same volume. I use Ozick's essay, and also Bruce Michelson's analysis of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" in his fine recent book, Mark Twain on the Loose, (1) as twin points of departure for my own critical work here.

It is not, though, merely the connections between the lead story and the later essay about Austrian politics that emerge when re-reading Twain's Hadleyburg book. However casual Twain and his publishers might have been in pulling together the stories and essays written between 1893 and 1900 that make up the collection (Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky dismisses all but three of them as "periodical literature, written for the moment and for money" [1]) a set of recurring concerns do bring it some unity, however loose that may be. Most noticeable are the references to the Dreyfus Case scattered through the book. Twain makes direct reference to this case on four different occasions (144-46, 170, 270, and 388-89). Moreover, he wrote "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" in 1898 in Vienna, the same year Zola published J'accuse, and Ozick astutely draws connections between Twain's story and this wider historical context when she writes that:

   the notion of a society--even one in microcosm, like Hadleyburg--sliding
   deeper and deeper (and individual by individual) into ethical perversion
   and contamination was not far from a portrait of Europe undergoing the
   contagion of its great communal lie. The commanding theme of "The Man That
   Corrupted Hadleyburg" is contagion; and also the smugness that arises out
   of self-righteousness, however rooted in lie it may be. (xxxv)

Ozick's reference to the "communal lie" directly echoes the idea of the "colossal National Lie" (180) that Twain analyzes in "My First Lie, And How I Got Out Of It," another essay in the Hadleyburg book. Communal hypocrisy, ethical perversion, the Dreyfus Case, failures of systems of justice, and anti-Semitism, provide a cluster of related themes that draws together much of the material in the collection. (2)

There are, too, other repeated themes that both further unify the book and connect it to the other work Twain was producing in the period. The subjects of mistaken and twinned identities, and of personal dislocation and alienation, obsessed Twain throughout his career, and especially in its final stages. In Hadleyburg, the comic potential inherent in the former pairing is exploited, to varying degree, in two pieces: "My Debut as a Literary Person" and "My Boyhood Dreams." In the first, Twain has a contribution on the shipwreck of the Hornet (a story fully reprised in this essay) accepted by an important New York magazine, but his dreams of literary glory are dashed by the publication of his nom de plume not as "MARK TWAIN" but as "`Mike Swain' or `MacSwain,' I do not remember which" (85). …

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