A murder, a mystery, and a marriage / by Mark Twain ; foreword and afterword by Roy Blount, Jr. ; illustrations by Peter de Sève.
Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 August 2001
As Blount explains in his energetic and enticing commentary, for all his fame and influence, Twain failed to get a pet scheme off the ground. In 1876 he suggested to his friend William Dean Howells, then editor of the Atlantic Monthly , that they invite "a good and godly gang" of writers, including such unlikely candidates as James Russell Lowell and Henry James, to each write a story based on a "skeleton plot" of Twain's devising. No matter how often Twain pestered Howells, nothing ever came of it, and Twain's inaugural version of the tale has been gathering dust ever since. Set in the small, anxious town of Deer Lick, and involving love, greed, murder, a mysterious stranger, and a family feud, it's a fun-to-read minor work of historical interest. ((Reviewed August 2001)) Copyright 2001 Booklist Reviews
PW Reviews 2001 September #1
The Atlantic Monthly, to great hoopla, recently resurrected an 1876 Twain manuscript; in this slim volume, it is reproduced, along with insightful comments from Roy Blount Jr. The question is, do we have a forgotten masterpiece? Or is the Atlantic playing a game like the Duke and the Dauphin's Royal Nonesuch in Huckleberry Finn, inflating expectations and leading up merely to a diddly stag show? In Twain's story, a Frenchman is found in a field of snow outside a small Missouri town. He refuses to explain how he got there, but lets it be known he is a Count Fontainebleau. He courts Mary Gray, the town beauty. Mary was intended for her true love, Hugh Gregory, but her father, John Gray, scotched the marriage. David Gray, John's brother, has threatened to drop Mary from his will if she marries Hugh, whom he dislikes. Then David Gray is murdered, and Hugh Gregory is convicted of the crime. Count Fontainebleau is on the verge of marrying Mary when there is a sudden turnaround of events. Twain's original idea was to give a skeleton plot involving a mysterious stranger and a murder to other writers (including, bizarrely, Henry James) and have the Atlantic Monthly publish all their versions a scheme presumably engineered to show Twain's superiority. This never happened. Twain's story is, admittedly, a trifle. Roy Blount directs his comments to the reason Twain put aside Huckleberry Finn to write it, leading him to speculate interestingly, albeit somewhat irrelevantly, on Twain's life and politics, which were shifting in 1876. Altogether, this Twain curiosa is less interesting in itself than for what Blount makes of it. (Sept.) Forecast: Curiosity will spur sales of this bauble, as will the gift-book-size trim and six watercolor illustrations by Peter de Sive. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.