Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ received mixed reviews when it first appeared in Harper's Monthly and later in the collection The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Sketches. Despite the range of critical estimations of the story, the magazine version of the story enjoyed a wide audience and earned Twain about $2000. Many commentators detected a movement away from Twain's trademark humor and light-hearted satire toward a moralizing didactic tone. A reviewer for Living Age states: "Mark Twain at his best is as good in his own line as any living writer of English prose .. . The snag on which he now seems most apt to run his vessel is that of edification. He is too fond of being didactic, or pointing morals, of drawing lessons, of teaching the old world how to conduct its affairs.'' This reviewer longs for the "gleams of the old humor'' and "outbursts of the old daring'' that marks Twain's previous literary efforts and recommends that Twain return to his successful style of ‘‘gleaming humor," "daring exaggeration,’’ and ‘‘vivid and 'full-steam ahead' narration.’’ On the other hand, William Archer of the Critic defended the moralistic tone of his story: ‘‘Perhaps you wonder to find Mark Twain among the moralists at all? If so, you have read his previous books to little purpose. They are full of ethical suggestion.'' Archer praised "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg'' for delivering a ‘‘sermon that sticks.’’ Citing Twain's story as a perfect parable, Archer explained that the appeal of a parable lies in its dramatic content, illustrating a lesson in an enjoyable fashion.

Scholars usually situate "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ within the context of Twain's other so-called ‘‘serious fiction.’’ Late in his life, Twain addressed various philosophical and...

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