The Mysterious Stranger Critical Overview
by Mark Twain

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘The Mysterious Stranger,’’ Twain’s last major work of fiction, was not published until after his death. In order to appreciate critical reactions to ‘‘The Mysterious Stranger,’’ it is important to understand the problems that have arisen regarding the manuscripts on which published versions of the story have been based. Upon his death, Twain left behind three different unpublished manuscripts of three different stories sharing a number of similarities. These manuscripts were entitled, ‘‘The Chronicle of Young Satan,’’‘‘Schoolhouse Hill,’’ and ‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.’’

The first published version of a story entitled ‘‘The Mysterious Stranger’’ became available in 1916. However, during the 1960s, scholars came to the conclusion that this version of the story had been significantly tampered with by editors and was not true to Twain’s intentions. The editors of this first version, which is now referred to as the ‘‘Paine- Duneka text,’’ were Albert Bigelow Paine and Frederick A. Duneka of Harper & Brothers publishing company. Paine and Duneka created this illegitimate text by grafting the ending of one story (‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger’’) onto the body of another story Twain had left unfinished (‘‘The Chronicle of Young Satan’’), editing out material which they deemed controversial, deleting about one quarter of Twain’s words, altering and importing a character from one story into another, and adding several paragraphs of their own writing—all of which they combined into a story which they attributed to Twain without informing the public of the radical changes they had made to his original manuscripts.

In 1969, Twain’s original manuscript entitled ‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger’’ was published for the first time as the authoritative text of the story. Scholars have since agreed that the ‘‘Paine-Duneka text’’ should no longer be regarded as a legitimate work, and that this more recent version is the only one which should be presented to readers as ‘‘The Mysterious Stranger,’’ by Mark Twain. William M. Gibson, in an ‘‘Introduction’’ to Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (1969), referred to the Paine-Duneka text as ‘‘an editorial fraud,’’ based on a version of the story which was ‘‘cut, cobbled-together, partially falsified.’’ Gibson asserted that Paine, ‘‘altered the manuscript of the book in a fashion that almost certainly would have enraged Clemens [Twain].’’ Sholom J. Kahn, in Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger: A Study of the Manuscript Texts (1978), somewhat more charitably remarked, ‘‘Paine’s arrogant procedure, however sincere, muddied the waters of Mark Twain scholarship for two generations.’’ Because of this long-running confusion over the text of ‘‘The Mysterious Stranger,’’ critical responses to the earlier, ‘‘Paine-Duneka text’’ are no longer applicable to Twain’s story.

Understandably, much of the critical discussion of ‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger,’’ since the authoritative text came to...

(The entire section is 689 words.)