Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 339 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 363 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 157 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 38 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 201 words.)

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 Guest’’: Mark Twain in Vienna, University of Georgia Press, 1992. Dolmetsch provides an account of Mark Twain’s travels in Austria, discussed in the social and cultural context of Austrian history.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1993. Eisenstein discusses the impact of advances in print technology on social, intellectual, and cultural life in early modern Europe.

Emerson, Everett, Mark Twain: A Literary Life, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Emerson offers a critical biography of Twain’s life and work.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher, Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture, Oxford University Press, 1997. Fishkin provides a collection of essays on the signifi- cance of Mark Twain to nineteenth-century American literature, culture, and society.

Hindman, Sandra, ed., Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books, circa 1450–1520, Cornell University Press, 1991. Hindman discusses the impact of advances in print technology and book publishing on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European culture and society.

Lause, Mark A., Some Degree of Power: From Hired Hand to Union Craftsman in the Pre-industrial American Printing Trades, 1778–1815, University of Arkansas Press, 1991. Lause discusses developments in the working conditions of print shop employees in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America.

Steinberg, S. H., Five Hundred Years of Printing, Oak Knoll Press, 1996. Steinberg provides a concise historical overview of the history of printing and book publishing from the fifteenth century through the twentieth century.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Dayton Duncan, Mark Twain, Knopf, 2001. Ward and Duncan offer a pictorial biography of Twain, based on the documentary film biography directed by Ken Burns.


(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 Voices. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher, ed. A Historical Guide to Mark Twain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Horn, Jason Gary. Mark Twain: A Descriptive Guide to Biographical Sources. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1999.

Kaplan, Fred. The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966.

LeMaster, J. R., and James D. Wilson, eds. The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993.

Ober, K. Patrick. Mark Twain and Medicine: “Any Mummery Will Cure.” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A to Z. New York: Facts On File, 1995.