Skip to main content

Just Listen: The Invalid's Story

“The Invalid’s Story” is a raucous story by Mark Twain about a case of mistaken identities and is a testament to how olfactory images can truly color a piece of literature. The story is considered by many critics to have no literary value. Still, even though some critics have panned the story, it is often reproduced in collections of Twain’s stories, and others have noted that it is a good example of the frontier-style humor for which Twain was known. The story details the unfortunate misadventures of two men on a train and their attempts to fight a terrible smell which they mistake for a rotting corpse. In the end, all of their attempts are fruitless. The themes range from mortality and the proper behavior towards the dead, to the power of imagination to overcome reason.

It is believed that Twain wrote the story in the 1870s, about a decade after he began what would be an illustrious career.  First published in The Stolen White Elephant, Etc. in London in 1882, the story can be found in The Signet Classic Book Of Mark Twain’s Short Stories, published in 1985.