Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd'nhead Wilson

4.4 24
by Mark Twain

View All Available Formats & Editions

Reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene are major ingredients in Twain's witty, yet fierce condemnation of a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.

Switched at birth by a female slave who fears for her infant son's life, a light-skinned child changes places with the master's white…  See more details below


Reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene are major ingredients in Twain's witty, yet fierce condemnation of a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.

Switched at birth by a female slave who fears for her infant son's life, a light-skinned child changes places with the master's white son. This simple premise underlies Twain's engrossing 19th-century tale of reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene. Infused with characteristic Twain humor, the novel also fiercely condemns a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“He is a man of force...a blacksmith who stands at his anvil with the fire burning and strikes hard and hits the mark every time.”—Maxim Gorky

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Tell the truth or trump-but get the trick.

Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

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, below St. Louis.

In 1830 it was a snug little collection of modest one- and two-story frame dwellings whose whitewashed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of rose-vines, honeysuckles and morning-glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds, touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers and other old-fashioned flowers; while on the window-sills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss-rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house-front like an explosion of flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there-in sunny weather-stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat-and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat-may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?

All along the streets, on both sides, at the outer edge of the brick sidewalks, stood locust-trees with trunks protected by wooden boxing, and these furnished shade for summer and a sweet fragrance in spring when the clusters of buds came forth. The main street,one block back from the river, and running parallel with it, was the sole business street. It was six blocks long, and in each block two or three brick stores

three stories high towered above interjected bunches of little frame shops. Swinging signs creaked in the wind, the street's whole length. The candy-striped pole which indicates nobility proud and ancient along the palace-bordered canals of Venice, indicated merely the humble barbershop along the main street of Dawson's Landing. On a chief corner stood a lofty unpainted pole wreathed from top to bottom with tin pots and pans and cups, the chief tinmonger's noisy notice to the world (when the wind blew) that his shop was on hand for business at that corner.

The hamlet's front was washed by the clear waters of the great river; its body stretched itself rearward up a gentle incline; its most rearward border fringed itself out and scattered its houses about the base-line of the hills; the hills rose high, inclosing the town in a half-moon curve, clothed with forests from foot to summit.

Steamboats passed up and down every hour or so. Those belonging to the little Cairo line and the little Memphis line always stopped; the big Orleans liners stopped for hails only, or to land passengers or freight; and this was the case also with the great flotilla of "transients." These latter came out of a dozen rivers-the Illinois, the Missouri, the Upper Mississippi, the Ohio, the Monongahela, the Tennessee, the Red River, the White River, and so on; and were bound every whither and stocked with every imaginable comfort or necessity which the Mississippi's communities could want, from the frosty Falls of St. Anthony down through nine climates to torrid New Orleans.

Dawson's Landing was a slaveholding town, with a rich slave-worked grain and pork country back of it. The town was sleepy and comfortable and contented. It was fifty years old, and was growing slowly-very slowly, in fact, but still it was growing.

The chief citizen was York Leicester Driscoll, about forty years old, judge of the county court. He was very proud of his old Virginian ancestry, and in his hospitalities and his rather formal and stately manners he kept up its traditions. He was fine and just and generous. To be a gentleman-a gentleman without stain or blemish-was his only religion, and to it he was always faithful. He was respected, esteemed and beloved by all the community. He was well off, and was gradually adding to his store. He and his wife were very nearly happy, but not quite, for they had no children. The longing for the treasure of a child had grown stronger and stronger as the years slipped away, but the blessing never came-and was never to come.

With this pair lived the Judge's widowed sister, Mrs. Rachel Pratt, and she also was childless-childless, and sorrowful for that reason, and not to be comforted. The women were good and commonplace people, and did their duty and had their reward in clear consciences and the community's approbation. They were Presbyterians, the Judge was a free-thinker.

Pembroke Howard, lawyer and bachelor, aged about forty, was another old Virginian grandee with proved descent from the First Families. He was a fine, brave, majestic creature, a gentleman according to the nicest requirements of the Virginia rule, a devoted Presbyterian, an authority on the "code," and a man always courteously ready to stand up before you in the field if any act or word of his had seemed doubtful or suspicious to you, and explain it with any weapon you might prefer from brad-awls to artillery. He was very popular with the people, and was the Judge's dearest friend.

Then there was Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, another F.F.V. of formidable caliber-however, with him we have no concern.

Percy Northumberland Driscoll, brother to the Judge, and younger than he by five years, was a married man, and had had children around his hearthstone; but they were attacked in detail by measles, croup and scarlet fever, and this had given the doctor a chance with his effective antediluvian methods; so the cradles were empty. He was a prosperous man, with a good head for speculations, and his fortune was growing. On the 1st of February, 1830, two boy babes were born in his house: one to him, the other to one of his slave girls, Roxana by name. Roxana was twenty years old. She was up and around the same day, with her hands full, for she was tending both babies.

Mrs. Percy Driscoll died within the week. Roxy remained in charge of the children. She had her own way, for Mr. Driscoll soon absorbed himself in his speculations and left her to her own devices.

In that same month of February, Dawson's Landing gained a new citizen. This was Mr. David Wilson, a young fellow of Scotch parentage. He had wandered to this remote region from his birthplace in the interior of the State of New York, to seek his fortune. He was twenty-five years old, college-bred, and had finished a post-college course in an Eastern law school a couple of years before.

He was a homely, freckled, sandy-haired young fellow, with an intelligent blue eye that had frankness and comradeship in it and a covert twinkle of a pleasant sort. But for an unfortunate remark of his, he would no doubt have entered at once upon a successful career at Dawson's Landing. But he made his fatal remark the first day he spent in the village, and it "gaged" him. He had just made the acquaintance of a group of citizens when an invisible dog began to yelp and snarl and howl and make himself very comprehensively disagreeable, whereupon young Wilson said, much as one who is thinking aloud-

"I wish I owned half of that dog."

"Why?" somebody asked.

"Because I would kill my half."

The group searched his face with curiosity, with anxiety even, but found no light there, no expression that they could read. They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him. One said:

"'Pears to be a fool."

"'Pears?" said another. "Is, I reckon you better say."

"Said he wished he owned half of the dog, the idiot," said a third. "What did he reckon would become of the other half if he killed his half? Do you reckon he thought it would live?"

"Why, he must have thought it, unless he is the downrightest fool in the world; because if he hadn't thought it, he would have wanted to own the whole dog, knowing that if he killed his half and the other half died, he would be responsible for that half just the same as if he had killed that half instead of his own. Don't it look that way to you, gents?"

"Yes, it does. If he owned one half of the general dog, it would be so; if he owned one end of the dog and another person owned the other end, it would be so, just the same; particularly in the first case, because if you kill one half of a general dog, there ain't any man that can tell whose half it was, but if he owned one end of the dog, maybe he could kill his end of it and--"

"No, he couldn't either; he couldn't and not be responsible if the other end died, which it would. In my opinion the man ain't in his right mind."

"In my opinion he hain't got any mind."

No. 3 said: "Well, he's a lummox, anyway."

"That's what he is," said No. 4, "he's a labrick-just a Simon-pure labrick, if ever there was one."

"Yes, sir, he's a dam fool, that's the way I put him up," said No. 5. "Anybody can think different that wants to, but those are my sentiments."

"I'm with you, gentlemen," said No. 6. "Perfect jackass-yes, and it ain't going too far to say he is a pudd'nhead. If he ain't a pudd'nhead, I ain't no judge, that's all."

Mr. Wilson stood elected. The incident was told all over the town, and gravely discussed by everybody. Within a week he had lost his first name; Pudd'nhead took its place. In time he came to be liked, and well liked too; but by that time the nickname had got well stuck on, and it stayed. That first day's verdict made him a fool, and he was not able to get it set aside, or even modified. The nickname soon ceased to carry any harsh or unfriendly feeling with it, but it held its place, and was to continue to hold its place for twenty long years.

Chapter II

Adam was but human-this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.A Whisper to the Reader

There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. Observe the ass, for instance: his character is about perfect, he is the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals, yet see what ridicule has brought him to. Instead of feeling complimented when we are called an ass, we are left in doubt.

Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

A person who is ignorant of legal matters is always liable to make mistakes when he tries to photograph a court scene with his pen; and so I was not willing to let the law chapters in this book go to press without first subjecting them to rigid and exhausting revision and correction by a trained barrister-if that is what they are called. These chapters are right, now, in every detail, for they were rewritten under the immediate eye of William Hicks, who studied law part of a while in southwest Missouri thirty-five years ago and then came over here to Florence for his health and is still helping for exercise and board in Macaroni Vermicelli's horsefeed shed which is up the back alley as you turn around the corner out of the Piazza del Duomo just beyond the house where that stone that Dante used to sit on six hundred years ago is let into the wall when he let on to be watching them build Giotto's campanile and yet always got tired looking as soon as Beatrice passed along on her way to get a chunk of chestnut cake to defend herself with in case of a Ghibelline outbreak before she got to school, at the same old stand where they sell the same old cake to this day and it is just as light and good as it was then, too, and this is not flattery, far from it. He was a little rusty on his law, but he rubbed up for this book, and those two or three legal chapters are right and straight, now. He told me so himself.

Given under my hand this second day of January, 1893, at the Villa Viviani, village of Settignano, three miles back of Florence, on the hills-the same certainly affording the most charming view to be found on this planet, and with it the most dreamlike and enchanting sunsets to be found in any planet or even in any solar system-and given, too, in the swell room of the house, with the busts of Cerretani senators and other grandees of this line looking approvingly down upon me as they used to look down upon Dante, and mutely asking me to adopt them into my family, which I do with pleasure, for my remotest ancestors are but spring chickens compared with these robed and stately antiques, and it will be a great and satisfying lift for me, that six hundred years will.

Mark Twain

Copyright 2002 by Mark Twain

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Pudd'nhead Wilson 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Mariamosis More than 1 year ago
PuddN'head Wilson is an incredible book, which clearly defines the lines between social inequality and racial nonsense.

I found myself torn between detesting the son of Roxy, falsely referred to as "Tom", and wishing at the same time that he would escape being detected.

The conclusion left me betwixt regarding the punishment in which was received and at the same time not. This ending distinctly shows the mindset that was involved concerning slaves and the degradation they endured while being looked upon as mere chattels.
Tamara87 More than 1 year ago
This book is very insightful and gives a great glimpse into human character and what drives our actions. It is a great story and Mark Twain, as usual, tells and excellent story. I had a difficult time reading the grammatically incorrect language of some of the black characters (Mark Twain's regionalism at its finest) but the ideas were conveyed very strongly through their actions and reactions to different situations. This is highly recommended for the classroom setting in which an instructor can lead readers into the themes and motifs prevalent in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A good book by Twain, in his eccentric and original stile, this book is provocative as much as it is humorous. The concluding court room drama at the end makes up for some lower moments. However, a word to the wise, in many parts the reading in this book can be rather trying, with the 19th century Negro slave talk, as in other famous Twain novels but, there is more here than in Sawyer or Fin. Yet, at the same time when you factor in the overall story, I would recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was expertly written and Mark Twain really grabs you with the description and great detail I loved this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pudd'nhead Wilson Is a great and thrilling novel about a slave girl who swithches her son with her masters son, and in doing so turns a mier slave boy into the heir of a very large sum of money. In the beginning this book seems to be a very calm book with a small bit of mystery and chaos. But things take a crazy turn and everything changes. From murder to trial this book tells a very interesting and unique storie, Teaches good lesson's, and shows what happens when you use bad judgement. Also, This book teaches character and how to use what little evidence you have to prove what is write. Although the book is hard to follow at times it becomes exiting and adventurous toward the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mark Twain shows his mastery of novel writing in Pudd'nhead Wilson. You will laugh as you read the hilarious twists that Mark Twain adds to make this book truly one-of-a-kind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have heard of Mark Twain. After reading a hefty memoir, I decided to read a work of fiction.I've heard comments about about Mark Twain e.g. racist, great storyteller. Well, I am African American and I did not find Mr Twain to be racist but a very witty and comedic storyteller. The introduction fowared by Langston Hughes was insightful to read. It was a quick read, and a great book that took me back to the times of the past.Ironically, reading Twain you notice that the past somewhat reflects the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the most important thing about this book is that it proves Twain was not a racist. A lot of people have accused him of being such because rather than actually read his books they just flip through and count the words they don't care for. If you hear someone call Twain a racist throw this at them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books ever!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do others ever misjudge you? Did you, as a result, ever have a nickname you didn¿t like? Did you appreciate that experience? How did you overcome it? What if you had been switched in the baby nursery at the hospital for another child? How might your life have been different? These are the kinds of thoughts that will occur to you as you read Pudd¿nhead Wilson. I was attracted to the story after reading about its genesis in the new illustrated biography of Mark Twain. Pudd¿nhead Wilson is tragic story about the consequences of two children being switched at birth in the slave-holding society of the American South. Those who admire the eloquent portrayal of common humanity among African-Americans and whites in Huckleberry Finn will find more examples of this point to delight them in Pudd¿nhead Wilson. Pudd¿nhead Wilson was a novel that gave Mark Twain a great many problems. The book started as a short story about Italian Siamese twins with a farcical character, as the drunken twin caused the Prohibitionist one to get into trouble with his woolly headed sweetheart. As Twain turned the story into a novel, the most important characters began to disappear in favor of new characters. Stymied, Twain realized that he had written two stories in one novel. He then excised the original of the two stories in favor of the tragedy, while leaving many satirical and ironic characteristics. Part of this switch no doubt related to Twain¿s growing pessimism as he grew older and to the personal tragedies and financial difficulties dogged his efforts and life. Perhaps it is this deep plot difficulty that caused Twain to leave the novel with two rather large flaws, which vastly reduce its effectiveness. The first flaw is building a plot around switching two children at birth to establish that perceived racial differences and slavery had been unjust. Unfortunately, the ¿bad¿ actor in the novel turns out to be the irresponsible Tom Driscoll (ne Valet de Chambre), who is 1/32 African-American but is raised as a white free man. Thus, those readers who wish to believe in racial differences affecting character can point to that underlying racial factor as still being present in explaining the misbehavior in the story . . . despite what appears to have been Twain¿s opposite intention. Had Twain developed his story to make the false Tom morally equal to his all-white counterpart Chambers (ne Thomas a Beckett Driscoll), the story would have worked much better in condemning racism and slavery. The second flaw involves having the story turn on establishing the unchanging nature of finger prints in a trial conducted in a small Missouri town many decades before that point was scientifically proven and legally accepted. For us today, the story moves slowly because we know all about fingerprints as a means of identification which makes much of the eventual resolution easy to anticipate, and also because Twain left many unnecessary remnants of his other story in the book. Despite these weaknesses, the Pudd¿nhead Wilson has many brilliant sections that strikingly portray how the concepts and realities of slavery corrupted both African-Americans and slave-holders. Because of thefts in the Driscoll household, the real Tom¿s father threatens to sell his slaves down the river (a fate to be avoided). When three of them confess, he agrees to sell them locally. Frightened by the potential for her child to be sold in the future, Roxy plans to kill herself and her son. By accident, she realizes that she can successfully switch the two children¿s clothing, since both of them look the same to Tom¿s father, and ensure that her son will never be sold, because he will be raised as the master¿s son, a white person. Many of the ways for rearing white child are bad for Tom, making him spoiled and disagreeable. Chambers does much better on a simple diet, and from performing physical labor. Tom is arrogant and nasty. Chambe