A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain: Summary and Review

the words "a telephonic conversation summary and review" written next to a picture of mark twain

A Telephonic Conversation is a short story written by Mark Twain. It talks about a telephonic conversation that ensues between a woman and her friend, a Mrs.Bagley, while the woman’s husband passively listens to a one-sided conversation writing an article on a philosophical subject in the meantime.

Telephone

What comes to mind when you read this word somewhere or some old relative says that to you?

For me, the sound of the word immediately brings back memories from childhood, and if not that scenes from old Hollywood movies with the device demanding familial attention with its loud and incessant trrrring, trring and the receiver immediately rushing to it, holding one piece to the mouth and another to the ear. 

People talking on the phone, as if expecting their voice to reach the other person without the telephone, and in the process, shushing every other sound made in the entire household. I get carried away in a whole different world

So, why am I suddenly talking about telephones?

I recently read a short story by Mark Twain, part of his collection, The 30000 Bequest.

I read the story and couldn’t help but smile. And well, Good things are supposed to be shared.

So here’s a sneak peek into the humor-filled world of Mark Twain’s telephonic conversation.

A Telephonic Conversation: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around a telephonic conversation that ensues between a woman and her friend, a Mrs.Bagley, while the woman’s husband passively listens to a one sided conversation writing an article on a philosophical subject in the meantime.

There is something very relatable about the story, something that almost all of us can relate to, at some level.

Here is a small excerpt..

Yes, Why? How did that happen?

Pause

What did you say?

Pause

Oh No, I don’t think it was

Pause.

Humans have an innate tendency to attempt to fill in the blanks whichever way they can. I am sure you could remember some homework back from your school, where you were supposed to fill in the blanks..

The dog jumped _______ the bridge.

Name of the President of X country is ______.

If x = 2, then 2X =_______

Now take the earlier conversation and fill in the pauses. The result could be funny, your homemade version of Netflix for a lazy evening, if I may.

The comments of the husband delivered in a typical deadbeat manner, were funny.

Subtle complaint about the the woman’s volume when talking on the phone –

I heard the following remarkable series of observations, all from the one tongue, and all shouted – for you can’t ever persuade the sex to speak gently into a telephone.

It might not be your wife that does it today, with smart phones and all, but I can bet you know an elderly female relative or two that will fit that description.

In closing the story Mark Twain presents this little monologue.

Must you go? Well, Good-by.

Pause.

Yes, I think so. Good-by.

Pause.

Four o’clock then – I’ll be ready. Good-by.

Pause.

Thank you ever so much. Good by.

Pause

..

..

When the woman finally hangs up, she does not do that without a sigh ‘Oh, it does tire a person’s arm so!’

Witnessing all this here is what the husband says

A man delivers a single brutal “Good-By”, and that is the end of it. Not so with the gentle sex – I say in their praise; they can not abide abruptness.

My thoughts on the story

The USP of this little story is its relatability. It is something that we see happening around us ever so often.

Taking such a mundane thing and turning into stuff that makes you smile.

That’s the genius of Mark Twain and his telephonic conversation.

6 thoughts on “A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain: Summary and Review

  1. I’m making my way through the complete short stories of Mark Twain right now, reading a few every day. He wrote one, can’t remember the name off the top of my head, about a long distance romance that occurred over Telegram. It sounds similar to this story. I think my favorite story so far has been the Stolen White Elephant story.

    I’ve tried to figure out what makes Twain so special. Obviously, he’s a masterful writer, and I think that’s part of it. To see someone with so much writing talent apply it to such ridiculous premises just adds another layer of humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I know right! That was his genius. I guess he could convert any mundane daily life observation into a comedy spectacle. I am not sure if you have read Taming the Bicycle. If you have not, I highly recommend it. I am so happy that you decided to find time to read him everyday:) I can hardly contain my excitement at the prospect that I have another person I can rave with over Twain. The Telegram story? I don’t think I have read that, I will put it on my Must-read list! Thank you!

    Like

  3. The official title of that story is the “The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton.” Also, another really funny story so far has been “Cannibalism in the Cars.”

    Just curious–would you consider Twain your favorite humor writer?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great, Thanks! I am so looking forward to reading those. Oh that’s a really tricky question, I would love to say Yes but Jerome k Jerome (mostly because of Three Men in a boat) is my all time favourite, closely followed by Douglas Adams but I must admit, they were not as consistent as Twain. He is my favourite American humor writer!

      How about you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would have to say Patrick McManus. It seems like because he wrote mostly fishing and hunting stories, his stuff gets overlooked. He has some elements of Twain in his writing–he is definitely fond of a framed narrative like Twain–and some elements of James Thurber.

        I’ve never read any Douglas Adams, but Three Men in a Boat is hilarious.

        Like

      2. Never heard of Patrick McManus,
        If you are into sci-fi, Douglas Adams won’t disappoint you, atleast not with Hitchhiker’s guide to Galaxy. I have got a few names and their stories to chase now, Thanks for taking care of my reading list for the weekend 😉 , Appreciate it. Have a great weekend and stay safe 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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