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The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain

The Mysterious Stranger (1916)

by Mark Twain

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The story is a somewhat bizarre satire on Christian religious beliefs set in the Middle Ages in Austria. 4* for the excellent LibriVox recording I listened to . ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 19, 2016 |
What a remarkable piece of writing from a man known for his subtle mind. This is an almost unknown novella, one that has been shunted off stage in favor of the luminous Huck Finn, the multifarious Roughing It and Innocents Abroad, and is considered part of Twain's "dark period" because it doesn't adhere to our expectations of his style. I'm deeply fascinated by Twain's manifold aspects as a writer, and this interesting novella illuminates one of them. Many have dismissed this nihilistic, atheistic story as the work of an emotionally exhausted and broken man, who had suffered ruinous financial losses and the death of beloved family members, one after the other. I find this dismissal deeply condescending and moralistic. In fact, Twain was a critic of religion from his earliest writings, most memorably in Huck Finn.

While The Mysterious Stranger's narrative framework is unconventional, even if fable-like, its lucid and unsparing criticism of religious belief at a time when such criticism would have been career-endangering, is frankly wonderful and profoundly emotional. Twain set this fable in fifteenth-century Austria in order to gain closer access to the most horrific aspects of inquisitorial religious authority, but it reads as if it could have happened in St. Petersburg, Missouri. (In fact, there is a "St. Petersburg" fragment associated with this book.) Some readers looking for the kind of rich, detailed setting one finds in Twain's other work will be sorely disappointed. Humor is sparse here (notable exception is the name of the town, Eseldorf, or "ass/donkey town"). As a devoted admirer of Mark Twain, I found in this novella a important pathway toward better understanding him, as well as an affirmation of some of my own core beliefs, which are rarely reflected in the literature contemporaneous with Twain.

An important last note: The copy of this novella I checked out from my library was actually the 1916 publication, which was cobbled together by Albert Bigelow Paine, who had sole possession of Twain's papers at that time. In an attempt to smooth out a piece in revision, he made some additions. Be sure to read the version found in the University of California's definitive collection of Mysterious Stranger manuscripts titled "No.44, The Mysterious Stranger." ( )
  bookofmoons | Sep 1, 2016 |
The best Mark Twain. ( )
  Stmurdock | Jul 17, 2016 |
read for the first time as an adult, enjoyable
  frahealee | Apr 3, 2016 |
A gloriously nihilistic tale of a village visited by a terribly amoral angel named Satan. While undeniably humorous in many ways, it's also a bitter indictment, not just of religion of all kinds, but of the hypocrisy of human nature. Wonderful.

(Laughing out loud, because I just read the other review of this story here on Goodreads, which says: "if you like "It's A Wonderful Life," you shouldn't read this work." I happen to absolutely despise that movie on so many levels...) ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mark Twainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wyeth, N.C.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was in 1590 - winter.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This work is the single work published in 1916. Do not combine it with the Mark Twain Library edition or with any work called No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger (or variations on that name) as they are different works with significantly different content.
Please don't combine this single work with any collections in which this work is contained.
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A dramatization of Mark Twain's novel about a young Missouri print shop apprentice who daydreams himself back to an Austrian castle in the Middle Ages, where a mysterious stranger, No. 44, brings magic, mischief, and adventure into his life.

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