Springfield (Mass.) Republican [unsigned]
1895: 3 February

About Pudd'nhead Wilson

Mark Twain gives in his new edition of Pudd'nhead Wilson, now reprinted in book form, a full explanation of a feature which must have puzzled many of the readers of the remarkable story which appeared in the Century last year. The feature referred to is the appearance of the extraordinary Italian twins, Luigi and Angelo, who seemed so absurdly out of place in the story. The mystery of their presence is now made clear by the publication in the same volume of a farce, Those Extraordinary Twins, which originally formed part of Pudd'nhead Wilson, but was excised for lack of congruity. The author gives us an interesting glimpse into his workshop and lets us see that his ideas grow in precisely the erratic manner that we should expect. The reader has been told many a time, says Mr. Clemens, how the born-and-trained novelist works; "won't he let me round and complete his knowledge by telling him how the jack-leg does it?" "He goes to work. To write a novel? No--that is a thought which comes later; in the beginning he is only proposing to tell a little tale; a very little tale; a six-page tale. But as it is a tale he is not acquainted with and can only find out what it is by listening as it goes along telling itself, it is more than apt to go on and on and on till it spreads itself into a book. I know about this because it has happened to me so many times."

But the reader will hardly be prepared for the discovery that the kernel, the starting point of Pudd'nhead Wilson was these same twins, or more properly a twin, for in the original form they were a freak of the Barnum variety with two heads and four arms but only one body and one pair of legs. One was fair complexioned, timid, very good and a total abstainer; the other dark, bold, wicked, or at least approaching that state, and given to drinking and smoking which did not affect him but made his unfortunate fellow-tenant very sick. The consequences of having Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tenants of the same body at the same time were of course distressing indeed, and each led the other a life of it during the week in which he had control of the trunk and legs. While Luigi was fighting a duel Angelo nearly died of terror, and as the week expired between shots and he came into control of the body he precipitately ran away from the field of honor, thereby sadly injuring his brother's reputation, and he squared up the matter of the duel by being baptized on a bitterly cold day, to Luigi's intense disgust.

Of course with such a motif, the story started out as pure farce, but as the author says, other people kept intruding themselves into the story. Among these came a stranger named Pudd'nhead Wilson, a woman named Roxana; "and presently the doings of these two pushed up into the prominence of a young fellow named Tim Driscoll, whose proper place was away in the obscure background. Before the book was half finished, those three were taking things almost entirely into their own hands and working the whole tale as a private venture of their own." The story now began to take on a tragic complexion, and the grotesque farce of the freak twins was out of place, but the author carried the manuscript back and forth across the ocean twice before he discovered what the matter was, that he was trying to make one story out of what was properly two. Then by degrees he began to cut out the farcical parts, and what humor was left in the serious story was that of Pudd'nhead and his calendar, while the twins took a minor part. Now their history is given in the original form, which is by no means complete, but serves to give a good notion of what the author had in mind. It is of no great consequence, but is a fair specimen of the grotesque drolleries with which Mark Twain used to regale his readers in his earlier days.

As for Pudd'nhead Wilson itself, it is not necessary to speak at length, for it has attracted much attention as any of last year's serials except Trilby. It is a vivid picture of the South of slavery days, and is full of the quaint paradoxes which we always look for in Mark Twain's work. The famous calendar itself is full of aphorisms worthy of George Meredith, though cast in the American vernacular. Not all of them are worthy of Pudd'nhead, but such remarks as, "Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education"; "Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry"; "Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved"; "When angry, count four; when very angry, swear"; "When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people I know who have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life."--these are in the familiar whimsical vein of humor and keen wit intermingled which have delighted so many hundreds of thousands of readers.

Homepage Next Page