Featuring History of Mystery/Detective Fiction and Other Literary Ramblings of Elizabeth Foxwell
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
A mystery fragment from Mark Twain.
Part of Twain's "A Skeleton Novelette" ms.
Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley
Among the items of the "Mark Twain at Play" exhibition of UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library is "A Skeleton Novelette," a tantalizing 1893 outline in which (according to the Complete Letters of Mark Twain)Twain and editor William Dean Howells proposed that 12 authors write a mystery with the same plot and characters but without knowledge of the other participants' approaches. "There ought to be a murder," Twain wrote. "It ought to be a mysterious murder and the criminal be found out through circumstantial evidence." I am uncertain who wrote the faint inscription "Same old idea" on the paper, but Twain biographer and letter commentator Albert Bigelow Paine seemed equally unimpressed with the idea, writing, "perhaps it was just as well for literature that it was never carried out."