News Release — June 22, 2001
Atlantic Monthly Prints Previously Unpublished Mark Twain Story from Ransom Center
"A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage," a previously unpublished 1876 work by Mark Twain (1835-1910), appears in print for the first time in the July/August 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In September 2001, W.W. Norton & Company also will publish the story in a hard cover gift edition, complete with illustrations by noted artist Peter de Séve. The Ransom Center provided the original 8,000 word manuscript of "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage" to the Mark Twain Project for use as the basis for publishing the short story in magazine and book format. Future venues include an e-book and an audio book read by Garrison Keillor.
Twain's manuscript is part of the Ransom Center's Ellery Queen Collection of Mystery and Detective Fiction that includes works by Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. The manuscript came to the Ransom Center in 1958 and is eighty-nine half-sheets of paper, bound in brown morocco leather, and signed Mark Twain. The story is part of a substantial collection of Twain material housed at the Ransom Center, including typescripts, proofs, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, and books from Twain's personal library.
Twain originally sent the story in 1876 to William Dean Howells (1837-1920), editor of The Atlantic Monthly, with the idea that several leading authors of the day would develop the plot described in his work into their own story, each of which would be published thereafter in the magazine. For reasons unknown, the plan never materialized and Twain's story remained unpublished. Now, The Atlantic Monthly will be publishing the story it originally commissioned 125 years ago.
Mark Twain composed "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage" shortly after he had moved his family from Buffalo, New York to Hartford, Connecticut in 1876. His tale intertwines the relationships among family members, young lovers, enemies and a mysterious stranger all leading to a heinous crime in a remote Midwestern town. Set in the quaint hollow of Deer Lick, a mythical town resembling Mark Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, this tale chronicles the fortunes of farmer John Gray, who is determined to marry 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 murder, the solution of which lies at the heart of this tale.
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, home of a substantial collection of Mark Twain manuscripts and memorabilia, including the original manuscript to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is overseeing a writing competition in connection with the release of "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage." In the spirit of Twain's original plan for the story as a "blindfold novelette," writers are asked to compose their own conclusions to the first two chapters provided by the contest organizers. The competition will award cash prizes to participants who develop the material introduced by Twain into the most well-written and creative plot resolution. Best selling authors and national literary figures Joyce Carol Oates, Lauren Belfer, Roy Blount, Dayton Duncan, Leslie Fiedler, and Garrison Keillor will serve on the final international judging panel with others to be announced.
In addition, the manuscript "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage" will be on display in the Center's year-long blockbuster exhibition From Gutenberg to Gone With the Wind: Treasures from the Ransom Center at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin from May 2001-May 2002.