The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) Character Analysis

The stranger is a “bitter” and “revengeful” man who is deeply offended by something while passing through the town of Hadleyburg. Incensed about the way he has been treated, the stranger brainstorms ways to take vengeance on Hadleyburg, ultimately deciding to ruin its reputation as a morally upstanding town. As such, he devises a plan to reveal the townspeople as corruptible, dishonest, and morally weak. To do this, he brings a sack of gold to Mary and Edward Richards’s house. Leaving before Mary can fully understand what’s going on, he retreats into the night while she opens the sack and reads the letter he has attached to it. As his plan to destroy Hadleyburg’s reputation progresses, he eventually writes all of the Nineteeners individual notes, signing them as “Howard Stephenson.” In these notes, he further baits the corruptible men along, encouraging them to try to publicly claim the sack of gold even though they don’t deserve it. Needless to say, Stephenson succeeds in his attempt to embarrass the town, though he fails to embarrass Edward Richards, who Reverend Burgess—the man appointed to read out the names of the disgraced Nineteeners—decides to spare. Although Stephenson is a resentful man, he is also true to his word. As such, he gives Edward and Mary Richards the $40,000 that the sack was supposedly worth, saying that he’d made a bet with himself that he would be able to dupe all of the Nineteeners. Since he thinks he failed, he pays Edward and Mary. At the end of the story, Stephenson tells the town that he knew he could lead them to this humiliation because Hadleyburg citizens never allow themselves to face temptation. Having never “tested” their supposed virtues “in the fire,” they are “weak,” Stephenson claims.

The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) Quotes in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

The The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg quotes below are all either spoken by The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) or refer to The Stranger (Howard Stephenson). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vanity and Virtue Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam edition of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg published in 2005.
Section 1 Quotes

But at last, in the drift of time, Hadleyburg had the ill luck to offend a passing stranger—possibly without knowing it, certainly without caring, for Hadleyburg was sufficient unto itself, and cared not a rap for strangers or their opinions. Still, it would have been well to make an exception in this one’s case, for he was a bitter man and revengeful.

Related Characters: The Stranger (Howard Stephenson)
Page Number: 420
Explanation and Analysis:
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Very well, what shall we do—make the inquiry private? No, not that; it would spoil the romance. The public method is better. Think what a noise it will make! And it will make all the other towns jealous; for no stranger would trust such a thing to any town but Hadleyburg, and they know it. It’s a great card for us.

Related Symbols: The Sack of Gold
Page Number: 424
Explanation and Analysis:
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Section 2 Quotes

Had he rendered that service? Well, here was Goodson’s own evidence as reported in Stephenson’s letter; there could be no better evidence than that—it was even proof that he had rendered it. Of course. So that point was settled…. No, not quite. He recalled with a wince that this unknown Mr. Stephenson was just a trifle unsure as to whether the performer of it was Richards or some other—and, oh dear, he had put Richards on his honor!

[…] Further reflection. How did it happen that Richards’s name remained in Stephenson’s mind as indicating the right man, and not some other man’s name? That looked good. Yes, that looked very good. In fact, it went on looking better and better, straight along—until by and by it grew into positive proof. And then Richards put the matter at once out of his mind, for he had a private instinct that a proof once established is better left so.

Related Symbols: The Sack of Gold
Page Number: 436
Explanation and Analysis:
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Section 3 Quotes

I wanted to damage every man in the place, and every woman—and not in their bodies or in their estate, but in their vanity—the place where feeble and foolish people are most vulnerable. So I disguised myself and came back and studied you. You were easy game. You had an old and lofty reputation for honesty, and naturally you were proud of it—it was your treasure of treasures, the very apple of your eye. As soon as I found out that you carefully and vigilantly kept yourselves and your children out of temptation, I knew how to proceed. Why, you simple creatures, the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.

Related Characters: The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) (speaker), Reverend Burgess
Page Number: 457
Explanation and Analysis:
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Section 4 Quotes

If those beautiful words were deserved, Mary—and God knows I believed I deserved them once—I think I could give the forty thousand dollars for them. And I would put that paper away, as representing more than gold and jewels, and keep it always. But now—We could not live in the shadow of its accusing presence, Mary.

Page Number: 465
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) Character Timeline in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

The timeline below shows where the character The Stranger (Howard Stephenson) appears in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
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Hadleyburg eventually has the “ill luck to offend a passing stranger—possibly without knowing it, certainly without caring,” since the town believes that it is “sufficient unto... (full context)
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One night, the stranger returns to Hadleyburg and goes to the elderly bank cashier’s house. This man—Edward Richards—is one... (full context)
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...done me a year or two ago. Two great kindnesses, in fact.” Going on, the stranger’s letter explains that he used to be a “ruined gambler,” but that someone in Hadleyburg... (full context)
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“I arrived in this village at night, hungry and without a penny,” the stranger says in his note. He badly needed money, he says, so a kind man gave... (full context)
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The stranger’s note explains that the man who helped him in his time of need can be... (full context)
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If Mr. Richards decides to conduct this inquiry publicly, the stranger writes, then he should follow these instructions: “Thirty days from now, let the candidate appear... (full context)
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Mary Richards finishes reading the stranger’s note and has to sit down because she’s so flustered. “If it had only been... (full context)
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...town is, it knows how to estimate him. Edward, doesn’t it seem odd that the stranger should appoint Burgess to deliver the money?” After some initial hesitation, Edward suggests that Burgess... (full context)
Section 2
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By the next morning, news of the stranger’s sack of gold has traveled far and wide, making it into national newspapers. “Hadleyburg village... (full context)
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One night, the Richards receive a letter signed by a man named Howard Stephenson. In the note, Stephenson upholds that he is from out of town, but that he... (full context)
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Edward and Mary continue studying Stephenson’s letter, which reads: “I remember [Goodson] saying he did not actually LIKE any person in... (full context)
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Stephenson ends his letter with the following words: “I know that I can trust to your... (full context)
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...he rendered that service?” he wonders. “Well, here was Goodson’s own evidence as reported in Stephenson’s letter; there could be no better evidence than that—it was even proof that he had... (full context)
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The idea of being put “on his honor” daunts Edward, but the mere fact that Stephenson remembered his (Edward’s) name stands out to him as a good sign. “Yes, that looked... (full context)
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...Nineteeners. Like the Richardses, these “principal citizens” also managed to convince themselves that they did—as Stephenson suggests—do Goodson a service worthy of a $40,000 reward. Because of this, Jack Halliday is... (full context)
Section 3
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Burgess continues reading the stranger’s note, which upholds that the rightful claimant must quote the final fifteen words of his... (full context)
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...irony that pleases the rest of the crowd. Nonetheless, Reverend Burgess pushes on, reading the stranger’s final note, which says: “If no claimant shall appear I desire that you open the... (full context)
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Studying the stranger’s final note, Burgess notices a postscript revealing that there was never “any pauper stranger, nor... (full context)
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The stranger explains in his final note that he was afraid of only one person in Hadleyburg:... (full context)
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Once the stranger wins the sack, he announces that he is a “speculator in rarities,” saying that he... (full context)
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The stranger explains that “rarities are always helped by any device which will rouse curiosity and compel... (full context)
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Still whispering to the stranger, Harkness says he will come to the man’s hotel at ten the next morning to... (full context)
Section 4
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The next morning, Harkness meets the stranger and gives him $40,000. The stranger then goes to Edward and Mary’s house to deliver... (full context)
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Edward and Mary open the envelope, expecting to find $8,500 worth of checks signed by Stephenson. Feeling uneasy about these checks, they decide to burn them, but just as Edward is... (full context)
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Edward tells Mary that he feels as if Stephenson’s final letter is “written with fire,” its very presence an accusation of sorts. Indeed, he... (full context)