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The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain, Fiction, Classics

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The setting is the fictional Missouri frontier town of Dawson's Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River in the first half of the 19th century. David Wilson, a young lawyer, moves to town and a clever remark of his is misunderstood, which causes locals to brand him a "pudd'nhead")--a nitwit. His hobby of collecting fingerprints does not raise his standing in the towns The setting is the fictional Missouri frontier town of Dawson's Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River in the first half of the 19th century. David Wilson, a young lawyer, moves to town and a clever remark of his is misunderstood, which causes locals to brand him a "pudd'nhead")--a nitwit. His hobby of collecting fingerprints does not raise his standing in the townsfolk's eyes, who see him as an eccentric and do not frequent his law practice.


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The setting is the fictional Missouri frontier town of Dawson's Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River in the first half of the 19th century. David Wilson, a young lawyer, moves to town and a clever remark of his is misunderstood, which causes locals to brand him a "pudd'nhead")--a nitwit. His hobby of collecting fingerprints does not raise his standing in the towns The setting is the fictional Missouri frontier town of Dawson's Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River in the first half of the 19th century. David Wilson, a young lawyer, moves to town and a clever remark of his is misunderstood, which causes locals to brand him a "pudd'nhead")--a nitwit. His hobby of collecting fingerprints does not raise his standing in the townsfolk's eyes, who see him as an eccentric and do not frequent his law practice.

30 review for The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain, Fiction, Classics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    During the antebellum south on the western shore of the broad, mighty , muddy, Mississippi River, 2,350 miles long, and miles wide, in the golden era of the steamboats, ( numbering an astounding 1,200, vessels ) feed by more than a dozen tributaries, they continuously went up and down those waters, and entered other streams too. A small , tranquil village named Dawson's Landing , stood, half a days travel by boat below St.Louis, in the state of Missouri, not an important place mind you, but when During the antebellum south on the western shore of the broad, mighty , muddy, Mississippi River, 2,350 miles long, and miles wide, in the golden era of the steamboats, ( numbering an astounding 1,200, vessels ) feed by more than a dozen tributaries, they continuously went up and down those waters, and entered other streams too. A small , tranquil village named Dawson's Landing , stood, half a days travel by boat below St.Louis, in the state of Missouri, not an important place mind you, but when an intriguing stranger, Mr.David Wilson arrives, from a distant part of the country, seeking to practice law here, things pick up, he hears loud barking from an unseen dog, on his first day, annoyed greatly, the new lawyer tells some curious leading citizens, that if he owned half the animal, he Wilson would kill it... Shortly afterwards the influential people in town gather and discuss those quite remarkable, silly words by the newcomer, after a short conversation , come to the unanimous conclusion this Mr.Wilson, is a pudd'nhead (translation, an idiot) the unfortunate man quickly receives that nickname Pudd'nhead, his high hopes for being a successful lawyer, collapses , no one will hire this obvious moron...At about the same time, two look alike children are born, both boys, one to Percy Driscoll, Thomas Driscoll, from a prominent family in old Virginia , his poor wife soon expires in the effort, another from a black slave, the beautiful Roxana, ( no surnames given them) her son, she names Valet de Chambers. The interesting thing is Roxana is white, in appearance, only one -sixteenth black, which makes Chambers one -thirty -second, he had a white father, but one drop of blood , will change your life. Roxy, who takes care of the children, is afraid she and her baby will he sold, and sent down the river, to a fearful fate , by her owner Percy Driscoll , and switches children, Thomas becomes Chambers, and Chambers , Thomas. , nobody notices the difference, but one has a fabulous life of wealth and privilege, the fake Tom, ( doesn't known he's black) is a cruel, vindictive, coward, the real Tom, a kind, generous, forgiving , brave man, who suffers misery , humiliation and beatings, frequently by the impostor , yes, treated like a slave.... Mr. Wilson has plenty of time for a hobby, between doing odd jobs in accounting and surveying, to survive, virtually unknown to the public, fingerprinting, a system that can identify anyone by the patterns on the tips of your fingers, he takes the prints of all , on a glass, in the village, the amused citizens think just another eccentricity, of the addle- brained man, then a mystery happens, local robberies occur in the quiet, peaceful town . More fascinating, the enigmatic Italian twins , Luigi and Angelo Capello, nobles they say, somehow find this tiny community, through a newspaper ad, and rent a room, the entire Dawson's Landing is thrilled, some excitement finally , here, later duels, a murder, and an old woman who keeps being seen and vanishing, at the site of further , unexplained, petty robberies ...A fine story that starts as a comedy, and then unexpectedly turns serious, telling and showing the tragedy of slavery... Mark Twain wrote about this evil institution, and reached the American conscious.

  2. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens: I shall write a classic novel, full of my customary barbed wit yet leavened with my compassion for humanity. I shall open the tale with a delightfully wry meta-introduction - before "meta" was even a thing! The wryness shall continue throughout what will be an exciting story of bold misdeeds, uncertain justice, and a compelling and surely very surprising trial. We shall end the tale with evil happily circumvented - but it will be an ending that is also dripping with iro Samuel Langhorne Clemens: I shall write a classic novel, full of my customary barbed wit yet leavened with my compassion for humanity. I shall open the tale with a delightfully wry meta-introduction - before "meta" was even a thing! The wryness shall continue throughout what will be an exciting story of bold misdeeds, uncertain justice, and a compelling and surely very surprising trial. We shall end the tale with evil happily circumvented - but it will be an ending that is also dripping with irony and pointed critique. An important fact: as a classic progressive, I have always been morally opposed to slavery and adamantly in favor of emancipation; likewise I firmly believe in enhancing the rights of former slaves and their descendants. This revolutionary perspective will be present in my tale - but it shall be a trifle muted, to allow for brisk sales. Pudd'nhead Wilson: I am the moral center of this tale and I shall hold that title with much becoming humility. I shall charm the reader with my unusual observations, sly comments, humane nature, and my prescient knowledge and use of finger-printing - all of this despite the derision of my fellows. I am perhaps a stand-in for the estimable Mark Twain. More importantly, I am also what is known as an Underdog. Rally behind me! The Italian Twins: We came from a discarded story, where we were once conjoined. But this tale has set us free! Pudd'nhead Wilson may be the hero of the piece, but our joie de vivre, pluck, style, and the utter fun we bring to this tale of dark deeds shall surely make us a favorite among certain lady readers - and certain reviewers like mark monday! Valet de Chambre AKA Tom Driscoll: I am the villain of the piece - but I shall rally against such diminishing, unempathetic designations! I am only human, after all. I shall enrage the reader with my high-handed, bullying ways, my cunning and greedy nature, my cheeky aplomb, my devious misdeeds done in the dark of night. I am what is known as a changeling, a cuckoo's offspring, an interloper. I am an argument in favor of nurture over nature: it is the spoiling, too-generous nurture of my uncle and aunt that shall sour my nature and turn me into a braggart, gambler, and vindictive villain. Or is this truly the case? Even as a babe in arms, I am characterized by my monstrousness... surely this is not due to my blackness, if being 1/32 part black even constitutes "blackness"? Unfortunately, the author could have been rather more clear on where my innately bad nature sprung from. That lack of clarity certainly muddies the water a bit. Roxie: "I's sorry for you, honey; I's sorry, God knows I is, - but what kin I do, what could I do? Yo' pappy would sell him to somebody, some time, en den he'd go down de river, sho', en I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't stan' it... 'Tain't no sin - white folks has done it! It ain't no sin, glory to goodness it ain't no sin! Dey's done it - yes, en dey was de biggest quality in de whole bilin', too - kings!" mark monday: I thought this was an admirable tale in many ways, well-written and enjoyable, with a leisurely but exciting narrative. However - despite its good, progressive intentions - the cloudiness at the story's center, its confusion around "nature vs. nurture", made me increasingly uncomfortable. And reading Roxie's dialogue and monologues - despite being true to place and time - was completely excruciating, at least to these modern eyes. 5 of 16 in Sixteen Short Novels

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has biting social commentary, but Puddin'head Wilson has all-out black humor. It's the story of Roxy, a light-skinned slave woman who successfully switches her even lighter-skinned son with her master's baby, and follows how each one grows up. I would have liked to see more inside the slaves' lives other than from the character of Roxy, but Mark Twain's point was mainly to criticize the spoiled slaveowners. In any case, the courtroom drama in which Puddin'hea The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has biting social commentary, but Puddin'head Wilson has all-out black humor. It's the story of Roxy, a light-skinned slave woman who successfully switches her even lighter-skinned son with her master's baby, and follows how each one grows up. I would have liked to see more inside the slaves' lives other than from the character of Roxy, but Mark Twain's point was mainly to criticize the spoiled slaveowners. In any case, the courtroom drama in which Puddin'head Wilson reveals the truth will have you riveted. An interesting literary tidbit: Mark Twain is known to have disliked Jane Austen's work, saying something roughly along these lines, "I can't stand Jane Austen. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her with her own shin bone." But as the Jane Austen fans love to point out, "every time I read . . ." implies that he read her more than once, and Mark Twain's sense of humor was to be negative about everybody and everything. But I think his ultimate tribute to JA comes at the beginning of Puddin'head. Compare this: "There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless" to Darcy's "the wisest and the best of men - nay, the wisest and best of their actions - may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke." Perhaps it's just a universal observation by two satirists, but I think the wording is very close.

  4. 4 out of 5

    LaDonna

    WOW!! Without divulging any spoilers, that was my reaction to the last sentence of Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson. Suffice it to say that the book took several twists and turns that I did not see coming, but each of them definitely kept the story moving. There was no way I was going to pass on an opportunity to read a book with a premise such a this one: A white man, born free, but switched at 7 months of age to be raised as a slave. A black man, born into slavery, but switched at 7 months of a WOW!! Without divulging any spoilers, that was my reaction to the last sentence of Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson. Suffice it to say that the book took several twists and turns that I did not see coming, but each of them definitely kept the story moving. There was no way I was going to pass on an opportunity to read a book with a premise such a this one: A white man, born free, but switched at 7 months of age to be raised as a slave. A black man, born into slavery, but switched at 7 months of age to be raised as a slave owner. What a freakin' social experiment!! A devil born to a young couple is measurably recognizable by them as a devil before long, but a devil adopted by an old couple is an angel to them, and remains so, through thick and thin. First published in 1894, Twain manages to truly challenge the idea of nature versus nurture, using both humor and suspnse. (Twain even manages to throw in some forensics science for good measure). In a the words of Langston Hughes, author of this particular edition's introduction, In Pudd'nhead Wilson Mark Twain wrote what a later period might have been called in the finest sense of the term, a novel of social significance...Twain minces no words in describing the unfortunate effects of slavery upon the behavior of both Negroes and whites, even upon children. I am quite sure that most of us read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in an English Lit. class, somewhere along the line. But, personally, I would have loved to have read this one. It has been well over 100 years since Mark Twain created this work; yet, it still speaks to criminality our society condones and the racial prejudices that still exist. Even Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar has an adage that speaks to the importance of embracing differences, It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races. If you have not guessed, this book is definitely on my must-read bookshelf. It will truly leave you wondering: Where do we go from here? And, how can we make things better for everyone? Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear--not the absence of fear --Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I read this as a teen, so probably 45 years ago. I thought I remembered fairly well. Nope! Oh, I remembered the main points, but it was almost like a new book & really worth reading. This is Twain's answer to nature versus nurture while satirizing race, religion, 'honor', & small town life. While the destination is wonderful, it's the trip that is best. The story is so well known enough that there will be spoilers in this review. Tom & Chambers are switched at birth by their nurse who I read this as a teen, so probably 45 years ago. I thought I remembered fairly well. Nope! Oh, I remembered the main points, but it was almost like a new book & really worth reading. This is Twain's answer to nature versus nurture while satirizing race, religion, 'honor', & small town life. While the destination is wonderful, it's the trip that is best. The story is so well known enough that there will be spoilers in this review. Tom & Chambers are switched at birth by their nurse who had her baby the same day as her master's wife. She raises them both & doesn't want to see her son endure a life of slavery, so she swaps them since no one else can tell them apart. Tom is 'white' while Chambers is 1/32 black, thus is 'black' by the 'One Drop' rule & raised as a slave. (IIRC, this is about how much Indian blood Elizabeth Warren claimed.) The white child becomes a spoiled, cowardly, vicious despot while the black one becomes ignorant & servile, but good of heart & strong. The other main character is David "Pudd'nhead" Wilson. He makes a joke when he first comes to town & it flies so high over the town folks' heads that they think he is serious, thus a pudd'nhead. It takes him 20 years (about 1830-50, the entire course of the novel) & one of his foibles (a hobby of collecting fingerprints) to reclaim his reputation despite the constant evidence of his character & intellect. He does so only through public spectacle. The use of fingerprints as the crux of the story is long foreshadowed for us, but I'm not sure how obvious it was in 1893 when this was published. It wasn't until about 1860 that fingerprints were documented in our current civilization (Chinese used them in 300BC.) In 1892, an Argentinian cop first used them to nail a murder according to this quick history. I recommend reading it. Interesting. One of the high points of the novel is each chapter beginning with an aphorism from Pudd'nhead Wilson's calendar, mimicking Poor Richard's. Many of Twain's best known come from this source. The characters are well voiced by Norman Dietz. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    "There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1—to tell him you have read one of his books; 2—to tell him you have read all of his books; 3—to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart." —Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the prin "There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1—to tell him you have read one of his books; 2—to tell him you have read all of his books; 3—to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart." —Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man." -Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar Nothing like some good ol' Mark Twain quotes. This story is very short for a Twain novel and also very somber. It has his classic wittiness in it, but it is as its original title suggest, a tragedy. Mark Twain at this point had become as leftist as he would be in his career. He was deeply anti-imperialist (which made him a harsh critic of Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt) and he was much more liberal on race than many in his day (despite serving in a Confederate militia for a few weeks, he would marry into an abolitionist family and would be outspoken in near-equal rights for African-Americans) and his experiences with Slavery in his youth (his father was a part-time slave trader) would haunt and guilt him for much of his life and present a sort of dual nature within him. This book is set in Missouri (Mark Twain's home state) and makes great use of standard Twain motifs like the Steamboat, the Mississippi River, and smart-ass dialogue; it is extremely different in its seriousness and heart-breaking look at slavery. The institution is the real villain here because it implicitly and explicitly touches and destroys the lives of almost everyone involved in this story. Also this book, I think, breaks barriers because the title character is a Scotsman and I can't think of any American title in which the big character is from the northern part of Great Britain. I also am very keen on how this novel reminds me of Leo Tolstoy's short stories and I don't know any other Mark Twain work-not even The Mysterious Stranger-to use so many tropes from the realist genre and it makes me wonder if Twain was aware of it since he is much strongly influenced by the more popular Victorian style that dominated the Anglo-sphere and is what he primarily worked out of. In the end this novella, partly inspired by a Black woman who lived on as neighbor to one of his in-laws, is to me a more serious,somber look at slavery than "Huck Finn" and anyone who wanted a substitute to that book ought to take a look at this one. "Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." -Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar "APRIL 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four." -Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar "October. This is one of the particularly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February." -Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar P.S.: Each chapter begins with one or two sayings from Dave "Pudd'nhead" Wilson's Almanac/Calendar. They are all hilarious.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    I read this book in a Southern Literature class about 10 years ago. I remember liking the book very much it is short and was a book that I was unaware that Twain had written.

  8. 5 out of 5

    P.V. LeForge

    Although I enjoyed reading Pudd’nhead Wilson, I enjoyed it more because Twain is generally enjoyable rather than because of anything remarkable about the book. In fact, I found the book to be more than a bit ragged. Hindsight is always easy, I know, but the knowledge of how the book came to be written and published points out the book’s flaws in a way that is hard to ignore. The book was to have been called “Those Extraordinary Twins,” and was to have been a farcical love story between a lightw Although I enjoyed reading Pudd’nhead Wilson, I enjoyed it more because Twain is generally enjoyable rather than because of anything remarkable about the book. In fact, I found the book to be more than a bit ragged. Hindsight is always easy, I know, but the knowledge of how the book came to be written and published points out the book’s flaws in a way that is hard to ignore. The book was to have been called “Those Extraordinary Twins,” and was to have been a farcical love story between a lightweight heroine named Rowena and one half of a pair of Siamese twins. An interesting idea and one that would not only have leant itself to many humorous opportunities but one that was staple Twain fare at the time. Twain was, after all, known as a humorist; he even called himself a “jackleg” novelist rather than a literary or serious one. In 1893, Twain had already written all of his best works of long fiction. Although a famous man by that time, he had made several bad investments and, refusing to take advantage of bankruptcy laws, assumed a $100,000.00 debt. Although a world tour helped, the expenses of this tour were in themselves hefty, so it was necessary to sell something quickly. “Those Extraordinary Twins,” which he had begun several years earlier, was the thing closest at hand. Unfortunately, over the years, other characters had crept into his story and had literally taken it over. At the end of the new version, his original characters had become insignificant. He ended up taking out the entire original story of the twins, cut them apart to make them two whole men, and came away with the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson. Unfortunately, in his haste to publish and his creative time consumed with financial matters, Twain didn’t do as good a job of revising the manuscript and smoothing out the story as he could have. Several references to Luigi and Angelo as “freaks” were left in, both subtle and overt. Also left in is a scene where Luigi kicks Tom Driscoll over a bank of floodlights. Not only is the reason for Luigi’s anger unfathomable, but the idea of such a kick is improbable. Does these omissions half-revisons ruin the book? Well, partly. The relationship between Tom Driscoll and Rowena is only hinted at, as if Twain did not want to take the responsibility of actually bringing that pair together, knowing what was to happen to Tom later. It is an unfortunate omission because it would have been interesting to see how he would have handled it. Four characters stand out in Pudd’nhead Wilson. Tom Driscoll is hateful almost from the moment of his birth and remains so. Wilson, called Puddn’head, is seems genuine and stable, although the reputation he has with the town is not as believable as it might be. He is obviously a smart man and well spoken. Judge Driscoll, the third important character, changes almost in mid-step. His feeling of warmth and friendship for the twins turns to disgust on only the word of his nephew, who has never shown the slightest tendency toward telling the truth or doing the right thing. Roxana, probably the strongest character in the book, changes as well. She is shown as a likeable young woman early in the book, yet becomes hard and deceitful, supporting Tom’s burglary activities. Of course, her baby was switched at birth with another. Did this harden her? Perhaps, but I would have liked to see it come out more gradually. It is also disturbing that Twain seems to leave unchallenged Roxy’s assertion that having even a drop of black blood makes a person bad. Even if she had not said it, the example of Tom and Chambers would have made the same statement. And, of course, Roxy had her own streak of evil. Twain never mentioned what Roxy thought when she heard that it was her son that killed the judge. Would she have supported him in that, too, even though she wanted the twins executed for the deed when she thought that they were guilty? Another omission. All in all, this book should be read by Twain aficionados only, and only as an example of what might have been.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amanda NEVER MANDY

    The transparent plot earned this read a three star rating. The author’s voice was very unique and distinct but the story itself was so-so. It had a missing piece feel to it like it was part of a continuous storyline and I happened to snag book three. The only memorable part for me was how the character obtained his childishly silly nickname. You know I walked around for at least three days calling everyone in my house a Pudd’nhead.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Pudd'nhead Wilson is a brisk, strange concoction of adventure, mystery and social commentary. It is also a disjointed combination of the astute and the naive; Twain shows biting commentary on the wickedness of slave laws, but appears to condone the 'honor' of the barbaric custom of dueling; he cleverly explains the forensic power of fingerprints (before they were used commonly in criminal investigation) but also ascribes scientific power to the flim-flammery of palmistry. Even the title feels od Pudd'nhead Wilson is a brisk, strange concoction of adventure, mystery and social commentary. It is also a disjointed combination of the astute and the naive; Twain shows biting commentary on the wickedness of slave laws, but appears to condone the 'honor' of the barbaric custom of dueling; he cleverly explains the forensic power of fingerprints (before they were used commonly in criminal investigation) but also ascribes scientific power to the flim-flammery of palmistry. Even the title feels odd; Pudd'nhead Wilson isn't the main character. This novel would be more appropriately titled; Whiny Villainous Tom Driskill (who gets most of the page-time.) But its still an entertaining novel. Lots of crazy things happen to keep you turning pages (though frequently the turns of fate feel arbitrary.) And the courtroom climax is a smashing conclusion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Lake

    Found myself laughing out loud as I read this one. Mark Twain's style of implementing his dry, cynical wit into his writings was magnificent. If you happen to pick up the version with the forward by T.S. Elliot, skip the forward. All he does is talk of why Twain sucked as well as all other American authors except his beloved Henry James. The book is hilarious and has some great, down home wisdom in it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    Very uneven read for me. Contemplated abandoning the book two or there times but at the trial time of the plot picked up myself and ended up enjoying the book, especially after it ended - reading the author's notes about the evolution (metamorphosis even) of the story itself.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    The Show Trial 21 January 2013 I had never heard of this story until I purchased a Samuel Clements (aka Mark Twain) book that contained it with two of the stories of his (Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer) that I wanted to read (and it also contained the Prince and the Pauper). In a way this story is very similar, but very different, to Prince and the Pauper. The similarities involve two boys that take each other's place, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. This story is set in the The Show Trial 21 January 2013 I had never heard of this story until I purchased a Samuel Clements (aka Mark Twain) book that contained it with two of the stories of his (Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer) that I wanted to read (and it also contained the Prince and the Pauper). In a way this story is very similar, but very different, to Prince and the Pauper. The similarities involve two boys that take each other's place, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. This story is set in the United States and the two boys are switched at birth, not by accident, but deliberately. Further, the story only focuses on one of the boys, since the switch involved a pure white baby and a baby that was 1/32 part Negro, but because of that really minor part that was Negro, he was still considered a Negro. The character whom the title is named after, David Wilson, really takes a back seat for most of the story, and only comes to the fore in the last few chapters when he is finally given the chance to prove his worth. Basically Pudd'nhead is a lawyer that moves out to a small town south of St Louis and on his first day makes a stupid comment and is then cursed with the name Pudd'nhead, which basically means stupid. Pudd'nhead is more eccentric than stupid, and one of the things that makes him eccentric, his collection of fingerprints, is what ends up turning him around and making him a hero. Some have said that this story is a courtroom drama, but most of the comments that I have read about it have suggested that it is not. While there is a courtroom scene, it only makes up a small part of the story, though much of the story builds up to this scene. In a courtroom drama the murder is usually commented near the beginning, or even before the story begins. However the murder in this story does not occur until near the end, and while it is clear why the murder was committed (money and unpaid gambling debts) it is more like an anti-climax. The thing that impressed me the most about this story though was that forensic fingerprinting played a very major role in an era before fingerprinting was actually accepted as evidence in court. However remember, this is a small town in rural America, and as such courtroom scenes become more like some sort of show (as is indicated in this book) than some really serious matter as one would expect in the city. Remember, everybody knows everybody else, including the judge, and it is basically the person that performs the best show that wins the trial. However, that is still very much the case today. Trials are less to do with actually finding the truth and more to do with who tells the more believable story, and who the judge prefers to believe. In my time in personal injury litigation there are always stories about soft judges and hard judges. This is basically determined by who likes plaintiffs and who hates plaintiffs, and even then, their word is never final. When somebody else ends up paying the court fees, the ability of plaintiffs to actually prosecute their case increases.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dusty

    Mark Twain wrote this novel when he was pretty old, pretty crabby, and living in Europe to avoid creditors and the other people who made him feel old and crabby. Really, it's a simple story: A light-skinned slave woman swaps her baby with her master's baby, hoping to ensure the former a happier life without the risk of being "sold down the river," and the rest of the book builds suspense for the "big moment" when true identities are revealed. I've read a few reviews that allege that Pudd'nhead W Mark Twain wrote this novel when he was pretty old, pretty crabby, and living in Europe to avoid creditors and the other people who made him feel old and crabby. Really, it's a simple story: A light-skinned slave woman swaps her baby with her master's baby, hoping to ensure the former a happier life without the risk of being "sold down the river," and the rest of the book builds suspense for the "big moment" when true identities are revealed. I've read a few reviews that allege that Pudd'nhead Wilson is a book against slavery, but this isn't quite accurate, as the Civil War had made slavery effectively illegal a quarter century before it was published. Instead, Twain writes a book to counter "scientific" claims made in the late nineteenth century in support of (white) racial superiority. Slavery is over, he argues, but people who believe nature (one's heritage) has a larger impact than nurture (the social conditions into which one is born) are essentially slave-holders in their modern reincarnations. On one hand, I'd like to fault Twain for writing a book ostensibly about being black in the United States without including a single character whose skin is noticeably dark. But on the other hand, it's a treat how he points out real and artificial differences between white skins. There is, after all, less difference in color between "white" master and "black" slave than there is between the Italian twins who move into town, who are able to be distinguished only because one is slightly "darker" than the other. Twain stages his conclusion in a courtroom, where poor Pudd'nhead Wilson finally has the chance to practice the law he studied oh-so-many years ago. For those of us who're accustomed to (and extremely tired of) the courtroom formula that plays out every week in Law and Order and a dozen other TV series, I think this is a bit of a let-down after what is otherwise an imaginative and caustic romp. However, I can't deny that that "big moment," when it finally happens, is written masterfully. Four stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Well let me start of by saying I bought six of Mark Twain's books for twelve dollars. SAY WHAT? Library sale, that is what. I bought them because I know he wrote many classics and I HAD TO HAVE THEM! Wasn't sure if I would be interested in his stories because in high school all I heard was negative things. Pushing those thoughts aside I read this novel, which is the shortest of the six I have. Needless to say it was great. I really enjoyed it. Predictable, but fun to read. This story is about two Well let me start of by saying I bought six of Mark Twain's books for twelve dollars. SAY WHAT? Library sale, that is what. I bought them because I know he wrote many classics and I HAD TO HAVE THEM! Wasn't sure if I would be interested in his stories because in high school all I heard was negative things. Pushing those thoughts aside I read this novel, which is the shortest of the six I have. Needless to say it was great. I really enjoyed it. Predictable, but fun to read. This story is about two babies, both white, but one was a slave and the other was from a gentleman's family. The mother of slave switched the babies for her own reasons and left fate decide their future. I had preconceived notion that Mark Twain writing was going to be hard to follow, but not at all. He is a great writer. The book was really straight forward. Enjoyable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    4 stars for Pudd'nhead Wilson, 2 stars for Those Extraordinary Twins.

  17. 4 out of 5

    SheAintGotNoShoes

    Glad that is over ! I did not like this book much. The idea of the infant switching was a good one, but then it got too convoluted and became a chore to continue reading. The excessive use of the slave dialect was maddening and tiresome and this most certainly is not my favorite work by Twain at all.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is definitely a well-kept secret. There are a lot of unknown Twain novels that are quite good, but this is sometimes referred to by critics as the third of his truly American novels. I like this book, and considering I had to write a whole research paper on it that's saying something. As a story its good, with a murder mystery, daggers, children switched at birth, etc... But on a deeper level it deals with slavery and miscegenation, humanity and the nature v. nurture concept. Very interesti This is definitely a well-kept secret. There are a lot of unknown Twain novels that are quite good, but this is sometimes referred to by critics as the third of his truly American novels. I like this book, and considering I had to write a whole research paper on it that's saying something. As a story its good, with a murder mystery, daggers, children switched at birth, etc... But on a deeper level it deals with slavery and miscegenation, humanity and the nature v. nurture concept. Very interesting. There is also a lot of humor, particularly if you have a cynical and sarcastic side. The aphorisms at the beginning of ever chapter from Wilson's Almanac are priceless.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I found this book utterly fascinating. I had no idea what this book was about until I delved into it and I was completely absorbed from page one. This book deals with prejudice in just about every area that you can think of: intellect, race, gender, social class and there was even some xenophobia thrown in for good measure. This is a wonderful book for discussion!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen Chung

    I've been on a Mark Twain kick, having just finished listening to (Librivox readings of) The Innocents Abroad, which I loved; Tom Sawyer, which I enjoyed a lot; and Huckleberry Finn, which I enjoyed less; and thought I'd find out what this lesser-known book was like. I guess I was at a point of diminishing returns. I happened to listen to the author's notes at the end before starting the book, in the process learning that the two Italian twins in the story started out as conjoined twins, but the I've been on a Mark Twain kick, having just finished listening to (Librivox readings of) The Innocents Abroad, which I loved; Tom Sawyer, which I enjoyed a lot; and Huckleberry Finn, which I enjoyed less; and thought I'd find out what this lesser-known book was like. I guess I was at a point of diminishing returns. I happened to listen to the author's notes at the end before starting the book, in the process learning that the two Italian twins in the story started out as conjoined twins, but they were later "separated" in the course of revising the manuscript. Well, that explains the many references to them being mercilessly "put on display" by their parents, and other bits that would make more sense if you were talking about Siamese twins rather than twin brothers who are highly skilled musicians. Beyond the patchy adaptation of the plot to the new circumstances of key characters, I have a general problem with Twain's fiction, which I didn't have with his more journalistic Innocents Abroad travelogue. And that is that he gets his characters into such desperate straits that I often have to put the book down for a while because it's too hard to keep listening. When I come back to it, it's usually with a greater sense of detachment, in which I constantly remind myself that it's just outrageous fantasy. And for me that detracts from the work. I was relieved when I finally finished this relatively short book. It has a satisfying ending, I suppose - you see a scoundrel getting his just deserts, and some good or pretty good characters being vindicated or lionized. And I am fascinated by the firsthand accounts of slavery - like the previous two novels, and like Uncle Tom's Cabin and various firsthand accounts by former slaves, it does succeed in giving a modern reader a keen sense of what slavery must have been like - you realize how deeply entrenched the system was, and how it was an inherent part of the everyday norm for everybody in the country, North and South. These depictions have helped me make more sense of current race relations in the US and African-American culture and pathology. This is what happens when you choose a very bad expedient for immediate profit or benefit, in this case, exploitive cheap forced labor from and harsh abuse of one particular group of people. Folks obviously weren't thinking of where it might and probably would lead in the future. Polluters, global warming deniers, and resource wasters (which includes all of us), are you listening? But I can't say I think very highly of this particular book or that I would recommend it to anybody other than a hardcore Twain fan. The ending is a bit too tidy, and it is hard for a modern reader to identify with, since fingerprinting apparently hadn't yet been established at this time and it is treated like a new scientific wonder, which I guess it must have been back then. I still do plan to at some point go on to Life on the Mississippi, in the hopes that it will be something closer to truthful reporting, more like Innocents Abroad (which however also includes wild flights of fancy in parts, but only in parts), than the incredible fabrications of Pudd'nhead Wilson. But first I am taking a restorative nonfiction break from Twain for a while.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    The trouble with studying literature is that close examination of a book can drain the enjoyment from reading it. As the feller said, if you take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you'll discover is a non-working cat. Every now and then you strike lucky, and your deep study of a book only increases your enjoyment of it. Puddn'head Wilson blends a fairly standard baby-swap plot device with a proto-crime-novel thing in the second half, but as usual with Twain, it's the dessicated pr The trouble with studying literature is that close examination of a book can drain the enjoyment from reading it. As the feller said, if you take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you'll discover is a non-working cat. Every now and then you strike lucky, and your deep study of a book only increases your enjoyment of it. Puddn'head Wilson blends a fairly standard baby-swap plot device with a proto-crime-novel thing in the second half, but as usual with Twain, it's the dessicated prose that is the real joy here. One of the things I like about Twain, and it's the same reason I prefer, say, Otto Preminger to Alfred Hitchcock, is that he doesn't signpost anything, or say 'Look! Look! Social satire!'. The plot of the book and what it's about are two rather different things, and the latter is where Twain brings the full-bore artillery of his bone-dry wit to bear. Without giving too much away, the baby-swap device illustrates the patent absurdity of one child with 1/32nd black heritage being considered a slave, while another, equally as white in appearance, is brought up as the son of a moneyed landowner. Twain has a lot to say about the racism and politics of the antebellum south, the resistance of it's people to change and modernity, and the acceptance of the status quo by all concerned, even the black population - but to his credit and in stark contrast to a lot of his contemporaries, he lets his characters do the talking, to much greater effect.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    A+ for Mark Twain! This is my first book that I have read by him, and I found it absolutely amazing. For one, I am not usually a fan of classic books (or maybe I just haven't really given myself a chance at them), but I found myself engaged and ready to finish this book as fast as I could. Surprisingly, this was one of our books for English III that we had to read. I just finished it, and I just can't stop saying just how great it was. I am shocked by how Mark Twain was able to create such an ama A+ for Mark Twain! This is my first book that I have read by him, and I found it absolutely amazing. For one, I am not usually a fan of classic books (or maybe I just haven't really given myself a chance at them), but I found myself engaged and ready to finish this book as fast as I could. Surprisingly, this was one of our books for English III that we had to read. I just finished it, and I just can't stop saying just how great it was. I am shocked by how Mark Twain was able to create such an amazing story. I loved the dialect even if it was difficult at times for me to read. (Definitely easier when you read it out loud.) The way he was able to depict the dialect was incredible. I enjoyed it very much. The theme for this story was that education and environment determines a person's life and character. I think it's so true, and I love the theme. The conclusion was perfectly written. Well, everything was. Here's to Pudd'nhead Wilson...and possibly more classic books on the way (by him or others).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yibbie

    I liked this one much better than the last Twain work I read, but then I rather like the tongue in cheek type of humor. Twain is certainly a master there. I shelved it as a mystery even though you, as the reader, are never mystified; instead it's a mystery to the characters. It done well enough. The only week point was Wilson's refusal to consider Tom as a suspect. It made for a more dramatic ending, but seems far fetched. There is a lot of social commentary woven in. It doesn't take much to figu I liked this one much better than the last Twain work I read, but then I rather like the tongue in cheek type of humor. Twain is certainly a master there. I shelved it as a mystery even though you, as the reader, are never mystified; instead it's a mystery to the characters. It done well enough. The only week point was Wilson's refusal to consider Tom as a suspect. It made for a more dramatic ending, but seems far fetched. There is a lot of social commentary woven in. It doesn't take much to figure out where Twain stood on the most prominent issue. Because it was written about slavery and the effects it had on all parties, there are numerous words that today are considered offensive. I don't know for sure (I haven't read many of his works), but it seems that he favors situational ethics. This time it was actually rather convicting. Does our 'religion' wear off and let us do what ever we want, or does is change us through and through?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie Bananas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was a bit hard to follow with how busy I was when I was reading it. I was listening to it rather than reading it, because I didn't find a copy I could keep on me all the time. Mark Twain's colloquial writing made it generally easier, but there is too much emphasis on the legal governmental system at the time. It's very good book if it is properly followed. I loved the idea of the book, and especially the Author's Note at the end, as to how the book came to be written. I believe that I'll be This was a bit hard to follow with how busy I was when I was reading it. I was listening to it rather than reading it, because I didn't find a copy I could keep on me all the time. Mark Twain's colloquial writing made it generally easier, but there is too much emphasis on the legal governmental system at the time. It's very good book if it is properly followed. I loved the idea of the book, and especially the Author's Note at the end, as to how the book came to be written. I believe that I'll be reading and hopefully enjoying Twain's longer books to get a better idea as to how he writes. A slightly difficult follow, but a good read nonetheless.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I have no idea how this book escaped my notice for so long! This was really really interesting: part social satire with all of Twain' s trademark social realism, part debate on nature vs. nurture, part thrilling courtroom drama; this really has a bit of everything. Excellent story, and easily my favorite Twain book yet.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    2/5stars "Tom" is a fucking asshole, Roxy is a horrible woman/mother and Twain's writing style is obnoxious as fuck. only giving it 2 stars rather than 1 because it wasn't as horrible as huck finn at least

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    An interesting novel in a number of respects, Pudd’nhead Wilson was one of Twain’s later works. Incorporating common devices from previous literature, such as the exchange of infants that he used in his own The Prince and the Pauper, Twain has created a memorable and unique work that, if not one of his most outstanding, is nevertheless worthy of attention. It seems very much an experimental novel, reaching in creative directions but somehow lacking a smoothness and unity that would elevate it to An interesting novel in a number of respects, Pudd’nhead Wilson was one of Twain’s later works. Incorporating common devices from previous literature, such as the exchange of infants that he used in his own The Prince and the Pauper, Twain has created a memorable and unique work that, if not one of his most outstanding, is nevertheless worthy of attention. It seems very much an experimental novel, reaching in creative directions but somehow lacking a smoothness and unity that would elevate it to the highest level of Twain’s accomplishments. In its diversity of themes, the novel deals with at least two issues. First, Twain raises and explores a host of dichotomies: slaves vs slave owners; black vs white; “culture” vs provincialism; men vs women (in the guise of a man disguised as a woman); the rule of law vs chivalric codes of honor; virtue vs vice; wealth vs poverty - the list could seemingly go on and on. Another issue is that of freedom in its several manifestations. There are multiple twists in plot and psychology that are intriguing. And there are also awkward seams in the novel - the Italian twins seem oddly developed and poorly differentiated, perhaps reflecting that in an early draft of the book they were actually physically conjoined. On the other hand, Twain’s writing of dialogue is masterful. His wit and perceptiveness are everywhere evident. Reading a book like this leads one inevitably to reflect on issues of race and what would today be called “political correctness.” It is easy to see how the novel might be offensive to contemporary African-Americans. But, and this argument is not new, of course, a book must be read in the light of its own times and attitudes, even if today we might not share the same perspectives. The best literature deals with broader themes of universal and timeless significance, despite its being inevitably rooted within its own period and culture. I think this novel contains enough of interest and relevance to our own time to deserve its continued place in our literary canon.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Barnaby Hazen

    Terrific classic. Genesis of CSI, if you think about it--early courtroom drama. I'd really be interested to know when the concept of the fingerprint being used as evidence came about, because Twain did a great job presenting it as if for the first time in this little historical town. So there's this other item of personal note, meant especially for authors currently alive and writing. Twain's use of colloquial, phonetic language on behalf of African American slaves is beyond reproach given what Terrific classic. Genesis of CSI, if you think about it--early courtroom drama. I'd really be interested to know when the concept of the fingerprint being used as evidence came about, because Twain did a great job presenting it as if for the first time in this little historical town. So there's this other item of personal note, meant especially for authors currently alive and writing. Twain's use of colloquial, phonetic language on behalf of African American slaves is beyond reproach given what he did to call attention to unfair treatment of people of color. He was arguably one of the first civil rights activists, if authorship can itself be considered activism, which I strongly believe. In this book, the fact that I find phonetic use of colloquial speech distracting as a reader did not bother me other than early on, while I was adjusting; all the while I was certain that it would be well worth the patience in adjusting to the phonetic representations, and indeed I was far from disappointed. So I take this review as an opportunity to make a side-note to other authors--I beg you, please don't spell colloquial speech patterns out painstakingly, and just as they sound as a habit throughout your manuscripts or publications. Split the difference somehow--maybe give us a taste and make references to it with a word or two as you go, if you're afraid we'll forget there's an accent in place. It's just distracting. Twain was entitled to this, you are not; get over it and write in the language you have chosen, leading us with the colloquial in the least distracting way that you can and still keep it represented, or I's gwine tuh give ya a whuping!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helynne

    We all read Tom Sawyer when we were kids, and most of us had read Huckleberry Finn in high school English class. These are both great American classics, and deserve all the attention and various film versions they get. However, I believe that Pudd'nhead Wilson must be one of Mark Twain's most unsung masterpieces. This story, named for a bright, but eccentric young attorney, Tom Wilson, whose community thinks he is a "pudd'nhead," makes some very astute statements about the ironies of racism and We all read Tom Sawyer when we were kids, and most of us had read Huckleberry Finn in high school English class. These are both great American classics, and deserve all the attention and various film versions they get. However, I believe that Pudd'nhead Wilson must be one of Mark Twain's most unsung masterpieces. This story, named for a bright, but eccentric young attorney, Tom Wilson, whose community thinks he is a "pudd'nhead," makes some very astute statements about the ironies of racism and slavery in the town of Dawson's Landing, Missouri in the years just before the Civil War. Part of the plot revolves around two baby boys, born at the same time, one white, and one part black, but so white that one would never know it. The mother of the black boy, who is herself only one-thirty-second black, doesn't want her son to grow up a slave, so she switches the babies, and what results is years of deception and farce. Twain weaves into his story the new-fangled idea of fingerprints that are unique to each individual, as well as some courtroom drama, which I always appreciate. The supreme irony of the story is saved for the end, and serves as a damning testimony to the absurdity of slavery as an institution and racist policy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An interesting commentary on prejudice. I found it particularly interesting that the prejudice most emphasized was that against the title character. I thought it interesting that the townspeople were able to recognize that they were wrong about David Wilson's intelligence, but unable to see (indeed, I am not sure that Twain's story really demonstrates) that the prejudice against an entire class of people is wrong. Both Roxy's and "Tom's" attitudes toward their race seems to agree with those of t An interesting commentary on prejudice. I found it particularly interesting that the prejudice most emphasized was that against the title character. I thought it interesting that the townspeople were able to recognize that they were wrong about David Wilson's intelligence, but unable to see (indeed, I am not sure that Twain's story really demonstrates) that the prejudice against an entire class of people is wrong. Both Roxy's and "Tom's" attitudes toward their race seems to agree with those of the landowning class. Tom's behavior would seem to bolster those attitudes, as would Roxy's. While Twain was famous for arguing against prejudice of all kind, I am not sure that this story really acted as a supporting argument. Except, that is, to say that "looks can be deceiving." David Wilson seemed to be a "Pudd'nhead," but the ostensible Tom and Roxy really did not behave in any way that would cause the white landowners to realize that prejudice is wrong. I think, perhaps, that I am confused on the implications made by this story. However, I did certainly enjoy it nevertheless.

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