A mysterious stranger is somehow insulted during a visit to the town of Hadleyburg, proud of its reputation for scrupulous probity. We are never told the nature of the insult, but the stranger’s revenge is to destroy the town’s hard earned reputation. His weapon is greed, which infallibly brings down eighteen of the leading townspeople. For the nineteenth citizen, and his wife, Twain allows their greed to lead all the way to the grave, dying raving and bitter.
It is of course a morality tale. Though I know little of Mark Twain’s politics, I interpret The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg as a criticism of emerging consumerism and a generational shift in attitudes to debt.
In some cases light-headed people did not stop with planning to spend, they really spent-on credit.
To bastardise a speech from the book, this story is not without merit, not without interest, not without grace; yet I was pleased to reach its conclusion.