Style and Technique

There has been some controversy concerning the editing of “The Mysterious Stranger.” William M. Gibson, editor of The Mark Twain Papers, a project at the University of California, states flatly that the story published in 1916 was a literary “fraud” perpetrated by Twain’s biographer and executor, Albert Paine, and editor Frederick Duneka of Harper and Brothers. Mark Twain clearly attempted at least four versions of The Mysterious Stranger. None of the first three was completed; the fourth version was intended as a conclusion to be added to the first version. It is now clear that the text reviewed here is the first version, cut and censored (possibly by Paine), the Astrologer borrowed from the third version and given a more extensive role, and the final section of the fourth version grafted onto the broken-off end of the first manuscript.

Nevertheless, what results is an extraordinarily charming and engrossing philosophy lesson. The whole story, style, incident, and excitement become electric every time Satan appears. Life is indeed dull in between. The boys adore him, pleading with him to stay, worshiping him, ecstatic in his presence. Satan is the beautiful, powerful mentor all boys seek, and the reader is convinced that Satan likes them.

Theodor is so honest and easily troubled, at one and the same time so adoring and questioning, that one identifies easily with the boy, no matter what one’s age. During the Socratic dialogue that ensues between the sixteen-thousand-year-old immortal and the simple youth, the reader shares the youth’s wonder and squirms with his discomfort. At the end, when he is left absolutely alone in space, the reader must be poignantly saddened and reaches out with the friendship for which Theodor longs and which Satan claims he can never have.

Historical Context

Austria in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
For many centuries, Austria was not a nation, but a duchy within the Roman...

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Literary Style

Narrative Point of View
‘‘The Mysterious Stranger’’ is narrated in the first-person voice by August Feldner, a...

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Compare and Contrast

1490s: Austria is a duchy within the Roman Empire, ruled by the hereditary Habsburg dynasty. Frederik III is archduke of Austria until...

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Topics for Further Study

‘‘No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger’’ is based in part on Twain’s experiences as a printer’s apprentice during his youth. Write a...

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Media Adaptations

‘‘The Mysterious Stranger’’ was adapted to film and released in 1982. Directed by Peter H. Hunt, this film is a loose adaptation,...

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What Do I Read Next?

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867) is a collection of early short stories by Twain, considered...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Gibson, William M., ‘‘Introduction,’’ in Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, edited by William M. Gibson, University of California Press, 1969, pp. 1–34.

Kahn, Sholom, Jr., Mark Twain’s ‘‘Mysterious Stranger’’: A Study of the Manuscript Texts, University of Missouri Press, 1978, pp. 4–25, 199.

Royal, Derek Parker, ‘‘Terrible Dreams of Creative Power: The Question of No. 44,’’ in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 1999, pp. 44–59.

Twain, Mark, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, University of California Press, 2004.

Further Reading
Dolmetsch, Carl, ‘‘Our Famous...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Burns, Ken, Dayton Duncan, and Geoffrey C. Ward. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Camfield, Gregg. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Emerson, Everett. Mark Twain: A Literary Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American...

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