Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories

Mark Twain has his own sense of humor. In the short story collection he can be a little more callous than he is in some of his more popular novels. He doesn't accept one bit of self-righteousness, and prefers the down-to-earth to the pompous. His characters emphasize that nobody is perfectly good or perfectly bad, and events can happen to people regardless of their disposition.
The stories included the following:
The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg -- The town prides itself on being extremely honest. A traveler doesn't like this, and sets off a plan to corrupt them. He has a large sum of money for the man who "helped" him. The person is supposed to write a letter with the phrase that he uttered to help the man. The man then sends letters to each of the "big" men of the town mentioning this phrase as a means of testing their honesty. They all bite, and make a mockery of the town's honesty. However, the keeper withholds the letter from one man, saving him the embarrassment. However, this leads to that man having internal torment, and he ends up dying shortly thereafter. The town now had a negative reputation and eventually changed its name. Down with hypocrisy!
The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County -- This was a lot shorter than I remembered.
The one million pound bank note -- A penniless man finds a million-pound bank note. Nobody can cash it, but everyone now treats him as wealthy. He amasses fame, but is conservative in the money he spends. Eventually, his notoriety allows him to earn real money and marry into wealth. (Is this anticipating celebrities whose only claim to fame is that they are famous?
Edward Mills and George Benton : a tale -- One guy did good all his life. The other did bad. Every now and then, the bad guy would try to do good for a bit in order to reap the many benefits of society. He managed to amass many friends and others trying to help him. Eventually, the bad guy kills the good guy in a bank robbery. The good guy is fairly ignored, while everyone tries to help the bad guy. A century or two later, society still falls into the trap. We spend many resources on attempting to "reform" and "educate" those that have "chosen poorly". The occasional success story helps keep this going. Meanwhile, those that work hard and try to do good are pretty much ignored. (After all, they are doing what society wants, no need for society to expend resources.) As long as the "bad" make occasional presentations of good, they can continue on their debauchery.
The stolen white elephant -- Absurdist
Cannibalism in the cars -- Dark humour where people talk very formally about "who they will eat".
The story of the good little boy -- Goes with the next one. Bad things happens to good people.
The story of the bad little boy -- ... and good things happen to bad people.
The man who put up at Gadsby's -- Don't recall much from this one.
Baker's blue jay yam : what stumped the blue jays -- This one didn't seem to stick either
A double barreled detective story -- This is a long story that involves Sherlock Holmes, a mistaken identity and a complicated revenge plot. About halfway through, the story changes from the "revenge" plot to Sherlock Holmes. I thought I might have accidentally gone on to the next story. However, at the end it finally all ties together.

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