From The Booklover's Magazine (February, 1904)

Pudd'nhead Wilson * * * has an artistic unity which the others lack. Curiously enough this sombre story took shape in the author's mind as a farce, which turned into a tragedy under his very hands. In one of the most amusing glimpses of a literary works hop that an author has ever given us, Mr. Clemens tells of his trouble with the tangled story. The farce and tragedy, he says, obstructed and interrupted each other at every turn, and created no end of confusion and annoyance, until he finally pulled the former up by the roots and left the other, 'a kind of literary Caesarean operation.'

The result of the operation, however, is by no means wholly gratifying. Pudd'nhead Wilson is a tragedy, but a very sordid one. There is no trace left of the light-hearted gaiety of Tom Sawyer, and very little of the genial humanity of Huckleberry Finn. On the contrary, the book is marked by a strong dash of ironical cynicism which finds utterance mainly in the obiter dicta of the titular hero, prefixed as mottoes to the various chapters. 'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man,' says one of these. That is not the sort of thing that the Mark Twain of Innocents Abroad would have regarded as a joke, and it runs counter to the experiences of Tom with Muff Potter , and of Huck with 'nigger Jim.' It is, perhaps, a result of this bitter mood that there is no one figure in the book capable of arresting and retaining our sympathies. Tom Driscoll, the slave who takes his master's place, is a monster of meanness, cowardice, and ingratitude; the mulatto, Roxana, is a strongly conceived, but rather repellent character; and Pudd'nhead himself is, till the very close of the book, a mere lay figure on which to hang the author's own philosophizing. And yet the work is by no means devoid of power. It is a strong, direct, and simple piece of narrative; it has an ingeniously constructed plot and a startling climax; and like its predecessors it is a genuine and realistic picture of that phase of American life with which the author is most familiar. Had any one but Mark Twain written such a book it would no doubt have been more generally recognized as the grave and powerful piece of art it really is.