Short stories by Mark Twain remain some of the greatest American literature ever produced. The vast array of subject matter, the whimsical manner with which the stories are told, and the great storyteller who wrote them make that a true statement. By the time of his death in 1910, Mark Twain had written about one-hundred-thirty short stories that were published in some form; he may be the only American author to have done so.
The first to be published and the most famous Mark Twain story is undoubtedly "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," a story told to him by a bartender sometime around 1865 in California. This story was originally written by request of Artemus Ward to appear in a book, but Twain missed the deadline. Instead of being included in the intended book, Ward sent it to The Saturday Press, which printed it in the November 18, 1865 edition under the title "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." Twain's short story was an immediate hit and was reprinted in other magazines and newspapers. Later, Twain rewrote the story under the title "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," with a different lead character. Eventually, it also became the title short story of a collection of Twain's other short stories. This book is now one of the most sought after and collected books in the world.
Three other stories by Mark Twain that illustrate his artistry, irony, wit and literary genius are:
- "Luck:" This short story by Mark Twain involves and English military hero named Lord Arthur Scoresby, a bumbling idiot who is extremely lucky. As a captain during the Crimean War, he makes several mistakes, but everything he does wrong is considered by others to be a stroke of military genius. The main part of the story occurs when Scoresby thinks his left hand is his right hand, turns his company in the wrong direction and charges directly into a large Russian force. The Russians are so surprised by the attack that they flee, which results in an Allied victory credited to the incompetent captain.
- "My First Lie and How I Got Out of It:" In this entertaining and applicable short story by Mark Twain, he explores the lie and the fact that everyone does it. Twain zeros in on "the lie of silent assertion" wherein people say "I'm okay," when they aren't. He claims, rightfully so, that everyone eventually experiences a time or a situation that requires them to tell a lie, saying: "All people are liars from the cradle onward, without exception, and they begin to lie as soon as they wake up in the morning and keep it up, without rest or refreshment, until they go to sleep at night." Filled with witty observations and downright truths, this short story is an example of how Twain so giftedly describes the liar in all people.
- "The $30,000 Bequest:" One of the funniest of Mark Twain's short stories, this masterpiece centers on how an imagination can lead a person in the wrong direction. In anticipation of a $30,000 inheritance, a lower-class couple with two daughters receives a letter from a rich relative telling them that he will leave them the inheritance, but it must remain a secret, and they must never inquire as to when he dies. For years, the couple scrapes by while they invest what little money they do have. They become multi-millionaires, but lose everything in a stock market crash and owe everyone. They didn't worry, because they knew the bequest would come eventually. When a bill collector comes to their house one day, he tells them the benefactor has died penniless. They couple wasted their lives dreaming of what they never had.