Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 20. Pudd’nhead Wilson

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

VIII. Mark Twain

§ 20. Pudd’nhead Wilson

The volume containing Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins, published in 1894, one is predisposed to value because it is another specimen from the Mississippi “lead.” It adds, however, relatively so little that is distinctive to the record that one is tempted to use it as an unsurpassable illustration of haphazard method in composition. The picture of a two-headed freak had given him the cue for a “howling farce.” When he began to write, the contemplated short story swiftly expanded, and there developed unexpectedly under his hand serious characters and a tragic situation unrelated to the initiating impulse. After long study he extracted the “farce” by “Cæsarean operation,” and appended it with amusing explanations to the “tragedy” which it had set in motion. Pudd’nhead Wilson, disfigured by vestiges of the farce in the incredible Italian twins, is, like The Gilded Age, a discordant medley with powerful character-drawing in Roxana and her half-breed son, and with a somewhat feebly indicated novelty in the philosophical detective Pudd’nhead.