Pudd'nhead Wilson

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Pudd'nhead Wilson 
by Mark Twain
★★★☆

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.”

3 comments:

  1. +JMJ+

    How interesting! I think I might have a copy of this at home, but I've never read it. After your description of the plot, I wonder why it isn't better known.

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  2. I've never even heard of this book. I haven't read any Mark Twain since high school. I might do a re-read of Huck Finn before trying something else. Such a strange title, though.

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  3. It is funny that so few people have heard of thIs one. I don't think it's quite as polished as some of his other work, but it's an interesting premise.

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