Although Mark Twain has been dead for almost 100 years, a never-before-published short story by the author will make an appearance next week in the quarterly mystery magazine The Strand. "The Undertaker's Tale" is a short tale-within-a-tale about a wretched homeless boy who is taken in by a kindly undertaker's family. The tongue-in-cheek tale about the funeral industry could easily have been written today.
The author, born Samuel Clemens in 1835, was widely published during his lifetime. His novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called the greatest American novel by some critics. But when he died in 1910 there was a tremendous amount of material that had never been shared. Who Is Mark Twain? (Harper), the first collection of his unpublished short works, will include 24 essays and stories (including "The Undertaker's Tale") and will be published in April. In one essay, he wonders if Jane Austen's intent is to "make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters?" While that comment might annoy some Austen fans, it will be nothing new for Twain, who was known for making prickly jabbing comments in his day. But the story that appears in The Strand offers more wit than jabbing.