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Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

Pudd'nhead Wilson (original 1894; edition 1959)

by Mark Twain

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1,904233,597 (3.7)63
Title:Pudd'nhead Wilson
Authors:Mark Twain
Info:New York, 1959.
Collections:Your library, Shawn's
Tags:fiction, mystery

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Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain (1894)



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This book had been sitting on my shelves for many, and I mean many, years. I finally read it and what a pleasure! I was gripped by this "prince and pauper" tale. It is a gripping story with fantastic characters. It addresses social issues (slavery), character flaws, family issues, and general difficulties faced by just being human. Twain opens each chapter with a couple of so-called entries to Pudd'nhead's personal calendar which are pithy quips. My two favorites appear at the beginning of the same chapter. First, "He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages". Second, on April Fool's Day, "This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four". Additionally, my Signet edition has an afterword by the author in which he explains the evolution of the novella from an idea, and it is worth just reading this alone.....almost. ( )
  hemlokgang | Feb 10, 2013 |
It's always difficult to review a classic, because it must be considered both for the modern reader as well as the audience for which it was written.

Twain's commentary on race relations, as always, is top notch. His understanding of human nature shines out, and the taste of what life is like in a small town at this time is matchless. Also, as a historical side note, we find the first ever use in literature of fingerprinting as trial evidence.

The story is not a mystery, but rather character study that is resolved in the way that a mystery novel is often resolved. Do not enter into the book expecting a modern mystery story, because those elements do not enter until the last few chapters.

If you're a fan of Twain, read it. If you haven't explored him before, you should start with his better known works first, and move on from there. ( )
  shabacus | Dec 10, 2012 |
An odd mix of Twain’s work, Pudd’nhead Wilson combines the character swapping from The Prince and the Pauper and the race drama in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was not at all what I was expecting. The title character, Pudd’head, is actually the cleverest person in the book.

Roxy is a slave, but is only 1/16th African. Her son is only 1/32nd African and in a moment of desperation she switches her son with her master’s child. The boys are almost identical and after the switch they are raised in their new lives with no knowledge of the past. Years later things become even more complicated as Roxy tried to reconcile the man her real son has become.

The other major theme of the book is a very early look at the use of forensic evidence in detective work. It feels like common knowledge to us now, but at the time fingerprinting was a completely foreign concept. Throw in some twins from another country, a gambling problem and some bad choices and you’ve got a novel.

It’s a strange book, one that doesn’t quite feel like Twain. It has some of his trademarks elements; a sharp wit, commentary on race relations, etc., but it’s unique in some other respects. It feels disjointed and a bit thrown together. I read a bit from Twain after I finished the book and he talked about how he set out to write one book and found himself in the midst of another. I think the plot reflects that and in the end it’s not one of his best.

BOTTOM LINE: If you really like Twain, definitely check it out. If you’re new to his work I would check out Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer before this one.

“When angry count four, when very angry swear.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Apr 25, 2012 |
Nobody quite combines comedy and tragedy like Mark Twain. His ability to mock the most unfortunate of situations makes even the most scathing of social commentaries enjoyable reading. Puddn'head Wilson is a perfect example of this with its discussion of race and privilege in the South.

Twain accomplishes two goals with this particular work. When discussing the reversed identities, he hits right at the heart of racial prejudice. Tom’s treatment of Chambers, and eventually his mother, is absolutely appalling, especially as the reader understands the true situation. His sense of entitlement because he is “white” is as disgusting to modern readers as it is telling of the difference in mindset between the 1850s and today.

What is fascinating is Twain’s use of the beginnings of forensic evidence in murder trials. The polite interest that turns into overt mocking that then switches to apt fascination is spot on in society’s acceptance of any new scientific methodology. While presenting this new, objective methodology, Twain also continues his biting commentary on the subjectivity of a jury that is hampered by close-mindedness and social stigmas. The crowd’s reaction when they understand that a “white” man of privilege could commit such a horrible crime is humorous in true Twain fashion while simultaneously horrifying at their ignorance.

Puddn'head Wilson is a fascinating look at a society long past. In fact, modern readers can appreciate Twain’s message more than his contemporaries could because we have the benefit of hundreds of years of ingrained social messaging about the equality of races. It begs the question of what Twain’s contemporaries thought about this social commentary. Would they have appreciated what Twain was mocking? No matter what era in which this novel is being read, Puddn'head Wilson provides plenty of fodder for discussion and contemplation, as befits a true classic.
1 vote jmchshannon | Feb 24, 2012 |
Every single critic (or reader) has accused Mark Twain of racism because of his representations in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, needs to read this book, which, while a lesser work of artistic achievement, savages American and Southern racism in their many forms. Roxy is a slave woman who is 1/16 African, and her infant son, who cannot be differentiated from the son of the master, is 1/32 African. On one occasion, Roxy fears that she and her son will be sold from Dawson's Landing, Missouri "down the river." Thus, she switches her son with the master's son, which means that the "slave" is raised as the "master" and vice versa. It takes detective work of a legitimate variety (the fingerprinting done by "Pudd'nhead") to solve the murder mystery that develops as the story goes along, but nothing is solved when the original mixup between the two infant boys is "corrected." The scars of racism run deep, as Mark Twain knows perfectly well. ( )
  corinneblackmer | Oct 9, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (55 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mark Twainprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Budd, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
González Cremona, Juan Manuelsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holbrook, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leavis, F. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, WrightForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The scene of this chronicle is the town of Dawson's Landing, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, half a day's journey, per steamboat, from St. Louis.

-Pudd'nhead Wilson
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This work is the novel Pudd'nhead Wilson, a single work, originally published in the U.S. in The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins.

Editions that include both Pudd'nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins are a different work and should be separated.
Please keep the Norton Critical Edition books un-combined with the rest of them - it is significantly different with thorough explanatory annotations, and with additional essays and reviews by other writers. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553211587, Paperback)

At the beginning of Pudd'nhead Wilson a young slave woman, fearing for her infant's son's life, exchanges her light-skinned child with her master's.  From this rather simple premise Mark Twain fashioned one of his most entertaining, funny, yet biting novels.  On its surface, Pudd'nhead Wilson possesses all the elements of an engrossing nineteenth-century mystery:  reversed identities, a horrible crime, an eccentric detective, a suspenseful courtroom drama, and a surprising, unusual solution.  Yet it is not a mystery novel.  Seething with the undercurrents of antebellum southern culture, the book is a savage indictment in which the real criminal is society, and racial prejudice and slavery are the crimes.  Written in 1894, Pudd'nhead Wilson glistens with characteristic Twain humor, with suspense, and with pointed irony:  a gem among the author's later works.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:26 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

The story of Roxy, a slave woman, who switches her baby with her master's almost indentical white infant. Thinking she guaranteed the future of her own child, now technically free, Roxy has, in fact, just tragically complicated his life and her own.

(summary from another edition)

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