Invoking the Sanity Clause

Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?
Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause that’s in every contract. That just says, uh, it says, uh, if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.
Fiorello: Well, I don’t know…
Driftwood: It’s all right. That’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause.
Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!

The first film that the Marx Brothers made for MGM, A Night at the Opera is on my list of top-5 films. The scene above never fails to brighten my mood.

I am invoking the Sanity Clause on my participation in the Art of the Novella Reading Challenge. Thirteen books down, I am beyond Passionate. With the last novella, I reached my delight ceiling and this challenge began to feel less like fun and more like hard slog. For the rest of the month I’ll be cheerleading Frances in her continued attempt to read all 42 novellas in the series.

The thirteen books I read for the Art of the Novella Reading Challenge were:

  1. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
  2. First Love by Ivan Turgenev
  3. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain
  4. The Duel by Joseph Conrad
  5. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. My Life by Chekhov
  7. Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson
  8. Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance by Sholem Aleichem
  9. The Devil by Tolstoy
  10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  11. The Death of Ivan Ilych by Tolstoy
  12. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo
  13. Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
Two of the thirteen I disliked, and two I thought first-rate. The others brought pleasure. There are some brilliant stories in the remaining twenty-nine novellas, which I look forward to reading at a more leisurely pace. For now, having digested thirteen new stories and many more memorable characters, I have binged on fiction. It is time for a little poetry, some diaries perhaps and non-fiction.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg – Mark Twain

Scene from the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins (Greed) - Hieronymous Bosch

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.

[Read as part of Frances’s and Melville House’s The Art of the Novella Reading Challenge.]