Updated on May 19, 2015
7. ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ by Mark Twain
This is possibly the ultimate revenge story. The titular ‘man’, passing through the town of Hadleyburg – a town which prides itself on its infallible honesty – is slighted by one of the inhabitants. Take note: he is slighted by one man. Fuming, he decides to take his revenge upon the entire town and he aims to destroy its holier-than-thou image. Fair enough, I hear you say … maybe. So what would you do? Egg everybody’s homes? Put underwear on the town statue? Or plot an elaborate scheme designed to publicly shame everybody in the town, so that they begin to question the very essence of their beings?
If you chose option three, you’re as awesomely twisted as the man that corrupted Hadleyburg.
This is a fantastically written story, by turns funny and moving. As well as being simply entertaining, it also addresses the huge question: if you’ve never been exposed to temptation, how can you claim to be virtuous? The townspeople are, of course, revealed to be easily corruptible precisely because they live in a bubble without any corruption. But throw a huge bag of money into the mix and suddenly they’re all falling over each other to wrangle it for themselves.
I liked the character Jack Halliday, who seemed to have opposite emotions to everyone else in the town: when all the citizens were excited and happy, he was miserable because he wasn’t in on the secret; when they were miserable, he delighted in their sadness. I also liked how, in the ‘courtroom’ scene at the end, there are play-like instructions in the text, transforming it from prose into more script-like dialogue, which really moves the pace along quickly. But perhaps the best bit is when the corrupter pulls a hilarious twist on the town’s citizens at the end of his scheme, so that suddenly everybody involved has to backpedal madly.
Overall, I think this is a very entertaining novella – an interesting lesser known read from a hugely significant writer.
“Why, you simple creatures, the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.”
I got this lovely little book from the Melville Publishing House as part of my subscription. I have to own up: I’ve never read anything by Mark Twain before but, having read this one, I’m determined to take on the classics!
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?