Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage

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An unpublished Mark Twain story surfaces 125 years after it was first written—a must-read for any Twain enthusiast and a perfect introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
America's great love affair with Mark Twain continues with the paperback publication of this new work that first emerged in the fall of 2001. , A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage, Twain's delightful rendition of life (and a disturbing death) in the mythical hamlet of Deer Lick, Missouri, chronicles ...

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An unpublished Mark Twain story surfaces 125 years after it was first written—a must-read for any Twain enthusiast and a perfect introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
America's great love affair with Mark Twain continues with the paperback publication of this new work that first emerged in the fall of 2001. , A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage, Twain's delightful rendition of life (and a disturbing death) in the mythical hamlet of Deer Lick, Missouri, chronicles the fortunes of a humble farmer, John Gray, determined to marry off his daughter Mary to the scion of the town's wealthiest family. But the sudden appearance of a stranger found lying unconscious in the snow not only derails Gray's plans but also leads to a mysterious murder whose solution lies at the heart of this captivating story. Including a foreword and afterword by best-selling humorist Roy Blount Jr. and stunning, award-winning paintings by illustrator Peter de Seve, A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage will delight Twain lovers for generations to come. Winner of the 2001 Hamilton King Award from the Society of Illustrators.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Written in 1876 between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage was composed as a "blindfold novelette" that Twain planned to launch as a competition for writers, including Henry James and William Dean Howells. The competition never took place, and the story -- enjoined for decades from publication by the Twain estate -- was thought by many to have been lost. Published for the first time in book form and beautifully illustrated, it is a true delight from one of the essential icons of American literature.
From The Critics
Between writing Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain had an idea for a collaboration: He'd sketch up a "skeleton plot" of a story, then invite leading writers of the day to have a go at their own versions of the tale. No surprise that Bret Harte, William Dean Howells and Henry James (Twain's anti-type) nixed the plan, hardly willing to play literary catch-up. While the project was never completed, the keepers of Twain's estate have finally turned loose the master's 1876 manuscript. It's not vintage Twain, but it's still fun—and a pretty fine effort. The story features a mysterious, sophisticated stranger who is sowing mayhem in Missouri among farm folk " whose hearts were in hogs and corn." What's equally intriguing about the book is Roy Blount Jr.'s excellent analysis and commentary. Blount provides fascinating background information on Twain's competitiveness, his politics (during the story's writing, Twain was fixated on the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes, which prefigured the Bush/Gore Florida fiasco) and his personality, which Blount says combined the "disreputable and good-hearted" side of Huck with the "manipulative and reputation-hungry" side of Tom.
—Paul Evans

Publishers Weekly
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 thegift-book-size trim and six watercolor illustrations by Peter de Sive. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The core of this little book is a gimmicky mystery that Twain wrote for a proposed Atlantic Monthly magazine competition in 1876. The fanfare accompanying its publication made it seem as important as a lost chapter of Huckleberry Finn; however, it's a distinctly minor piece, good for a chuckle or two. The real meat of the book is humorist Roy Blount's contribution, which uses half the pages to tell the story behind the story and place it in the context of Twain's other writings. This will interest Twain buffs and scholars but may stretch the patience of listeners, especially since Blount writes better than he reads. Fellow humorist Garrison Keillor narrates Twain's story itself, but even it may not please everyone. His timing and inflections, while perfect for his own material, tend to bury Twain's voice. Not a necessary addition to libraries that own the print edition. R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393324495
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/19/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 1,468,675
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), best known to the world by his pen-name Mark Twain, was an author and humorist, noted for his novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which has been called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876, among many others.

Roy Blount Jr.'s recent books include the memoir Be Sweet and Roy Blount's Book of Southern Humor.

Peter de Sève's illustrations have appeared on the cover of The New Yorker, and he has created characters for Disney and Dreamworks. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (real name); Sieur Louis de Conte
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1835
    2. Place of Birth:
      Florida, Missouri
    1. Date of Death:
      April 21, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Redding, Connecticut

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Upon the border of a remote and out-of-the-way village in south-western Missouri lived an old farmer named John Gray. The village was called Deer Lick. It was a straggling, drowsy hamlet of six or seven hundred inhabitants. These people knew, in a dim way, that out in the great world there were things called railways, steamboats, telegraphs and newspapers, but they had no personal acquaintance with them, and took no more interest in them than they did in the concerns of the moon. Their hearts were in hogs and corn. The books used in the primitive village school were more than a generation old; the aged Presbyterian minister, Rev. John Hurley, still dealt in the fire and brimstone of an obsolete theology; the very cut of the people's garments had not changed within the memory of any man.

    John Gray, at fifty-five, was exactly as well off as he was when he had inherited his small farm thirty years before. He was able to grub a living out of his land, by hard work; by no amount of endeavor had he ever been able to do more. He had had ambitions toward wealth, but the hope of acquiring it by the labor of his hands had by slow degrees died within him and he had become at last a blighted, querulous man. He had one chance left, and only one. This was, the possibility of marrying his daughter to a rich man. He observed with content, that an intimacy had sprung up between Mary Gray and young Hugh Gregory; for Hugh, in addition to being good, respectable and diligent, would be left tolerably well off whenever his aged father's days should come to an end. John Gray encouraged the young man, from selfish motives; Maryencouraged him because he was tall, honest, handsome, and simple-hearted, and because she liked curly auburn hair better than any other. Sarah Gray, the mother, encouraged him because Mary liked him. She was willing to do anything that might please Mary, for she lived only in her and for her.

    Hugh Gregory was twenty-seven years old, Mary twenty. She was a gentle creature, pure in heart, and beautiful. She was dutiful and obedient, and even her father loved her as much as it was in him to love anything. Presently Hugh began to come daily to see Mary; he and she took long horseback rides when the weather was pleasant, and in the evenings they had cosy confidential chats together in a corner of the parlor while the old people and Mary's youthful brother Tom kept to themselves by the fireplace and took no notice. John Gray's nature was softening fast. He gradually ceased to growl and fret. His hard face took to itself a satisfied look. He even smiled now and then, in an experimental way.

    One stormy winter's night Mrs. Gray came beaming to bed an hour later than her husband, and whispered:

    "John, everything's safe at last. Hugh has popped the question!"

    John Gray said:

    "Say it again, Sally, say it again!"

    She said it again.

    "I want to get up and hurrah, Sally. It's too good for anything! Now what'll Dave say! Dave may go to grass with his money—nobody cares."

    "Well, old man, nobody does care. And it's well it's so, because if your brother ever might have left us his money he'll never do it now, because he hates Hugh like p'ison—has hated him ever since he tried to cheat Hugh's father out of the Hickory Flat farm and Hugh chipped in and stopped the thing."

    "Don't you worry about any money we've lost of Dave's, Sally. Since the day I quarreled with Dave, twelve years ago, he has hated me more and more all the time and I've hated him more and more. Brothers' quarrels don't heal, easy, old wife. He has gone on getting richer and richer and richer, and I've hated him for that. I'm poor, and he's the richest man in the county—and I hate him for that. Much money Dave would be likely to leave to us!"

    "Well, you know he used to pet Mary a good deal before you quarreled, and so I thought maybe—"

    "Shaw! 'Twas an old bachelor's petting—no money in it for Mary—you can depend on that. And if there might have been, it's all up with it, now, as you say; for he wouldn't give her a cent that Hugh Gregory might ever get hold of."

    "Dave's a mean old hunks, anyway you can fix him, pap. I wish there was some other place where Hugh could sleep when he is in the village over night but in the same building with David Gray. Hugh's father has tried to get Dave to move his office out of there, time and time again, but he sticks to his lease. They say he is always at the front door of a morning, ready to insult Hugh when he comes down stairs. Mrs. Sykes told me she heard Dave insult Hugh one morning about six weeks ago, when three or four people were going by. She looked to see Hugh break his head, but he didn't. He kept down his temper, and never said anything but 'Mr. Gray, you might do this thing once too often, one of these days.' Dave sneered at him and said, 'O yes, you've said that before—why don't you do something? what do you talk about it so much for?'"

    "Well, we'll go to sleep, old woman. I reckon things are going about right with us at last. Here's luck and long life to Hugh and Mary—our children—God bless 'em!"

Chapter Two

About eight o'clock the next morning the Rev. John Hurley rode up to John Gray's gate, hitched his horse and ascended the front steps. The family heard him stamping the snow off his boots, and Mr. Gray delivered a facetious glance at Mary and said:

    "Seems to me Hugh comes a little earlier and a little earlier every morning, don't he, honey?"

    Mary blushed and her eyes sparkled with a proud pleasure, but these things did not keep her from flying to the door to welcome—the wrong man. When the old clergyman was come into the presence of the family, he said:

    "Well, friends, I've got some splendid news for ye!"

    "Have you, though?" said John Gray. "Out with it, Dominie, and I'll agree to cap it with better news still, which I'll give you."

    He cast a teasing glance at Mary, who dropped her head. The old minister said:

    "Good—my news first and yours afterward. You know, David Gray has been down on the South Fork for a month, now, looking after his property there. Well the other night he staid at my son's house, there, and in the talk it came out that he made his will about a year ago and in it he leaves every cent of his wealth to—whom do you suppose? Why, to our little Mary here—nobody else! And you can depend on it I didn't lose a minute after reading my son's letter. I rushed right here to tell you—for, says I to myself, this will join those estranged brothers together again, and in the mercy of God my old eyes shall see them at peace and loving each other once more. I have brought you back the lost love of your youth, John Gray—now cap it with better news if you can! Come, tell me your tidings?

    All the animation had passed out of John Gray's face. It was hard, troubled, distraught. One might have supposed he had just heard of a crushing calamity. He fumbled with his garments, he avoided the inquiring eyes that were fixed upon him, he tried to stammer out something, and failed. The situation was becoming embarrassing. To relieve it, Mrs. Gray came to the rescue with—

    "Our great news is that our Mary here—"


Excerpted from A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage by Mark Twain. Copyright © 2001 by Richard A. Watson and Chase Manhattan Bank as Trustees of the Mark Twain Foundation, licensed to the Library Foundation of Buffalo and Erie County, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 7
Foreword 9
A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage 19
Afterword 67
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