Adventures in Bookland: The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain

It turns out, from reading ‘The Stolen White Elephant’, the first story in this collection, that the detective story had barely been invented before it was being mocked. Reading the omniscient hero of the story unfailingly direct his detectives in all the wrong directions, I immediately assumed that Twain was sending up Sherlock Holmes, only to discover that the story was written five years before Sherlock first appeared in print. So Twain, it seems, had established all the main tropes of satirising detective fiction before detective fiction had even acquired its most iconic character! If that is not the ultimate feat of literary detection, I don’t know what is!

Apart from that, the stories illustrate how tastes change over the years. The last story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Talaveras County, was the story that made Twain’s name but reading it now, while it’s easy to appreciate the facility with which Twain reproduces the dialect of the place, the story itself appears a simply shaggy frog story, scarce deserving its reputation as the quintessential Twain story.


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