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The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  12,200 Ratings  ·  752 Reviews
Switched at birth by a young slave woman who fears for her son's life, a light-skinned infant takes the place of the master's white son.
Paperback, 118 pages
Published March 19th 2001 by Quiet Vision Publ. (first published May 10th 1893)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kressel Housman
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has biting social commentary, but Puddin'head Wilson has all-out black humor. It's the story of Roxy, a light-skinned slave woman who successfully switches her even lighter-skinned son with her master's baby, and follows how each one grows up. I would have liked to see more inside the slaves' lives other than from the character of Roxy, but Mark Twain's point was mainly to criticize the spoiled slaveowners. In any case, the courtroom drama in which Puddin'hea ...more
Ken Moten
Apr 01, 2016 Ken Moten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and
the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1—to tell him
you have read one of his books; 2—to tell him you have read
all of his books; 3—to ask him to let you read the
manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his
respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries
you clear into his heart.
" —Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the prin
P.V. LeForge
Although I enjoyed reading Pudd’nhead Wilson, I enjoyed it more because Twain is generally enjoyable rather than because of anything remarkable about the book. In fact, I found the book to be more than a bit ragged. Hindsight is always easy, I know, but the knowledge of how the book came to be written and published points out the book’s flaws in a way that is hard to ignore.

The book was to have been called “Those Extraordinary Twins,” and was to have been a farcical love story between a lightw
David Sarkies
Apr 28, 2016 David Sarkies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want something different
Recommended to David by: Nobody in particular.
Shelves: historical
The Show Trial
21 January 2013

I had never heard of this story until I purchased a Samuel Clements (aka Mark Twain) book that contained it with two of the stories of his (Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer) that I wanted to read (and it also contained the Prince and the Pauper). In a way this story is very similar, but very different, to Prince and the Pauper. The similarities involve two boys that take each other's place, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. This story is set in the
Aug 22, 2012 Dusty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mark Twain wrote this novel when he was pretty old, pretty crabby, and living in Europe to avoid creditors and the other people who made him feel old and crabby. Really, it's a simple story: A light-skinned slave woman swaps her baby with her master's baby, hoping to ensure the former a happier life without the risk of being "sold down the river," and the rest of the book builds suspense for the "big moment" when true identities are revealed.

I've read a few reviews that allege that Pudd'nhead W
Kevin Lake
Jul 17, 2012 Kevin Lake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Found myself laughing out loud as I read this one. Mark Twain's style of implementing his dry, cynical wit into his writings was magnificent. If you happen to pick up the version with the forward by T.S. Elliot, skip the forward. All he does is talk of why Twain sucked as well as all other American authors except his beloved Henry James. The book is hilarious and has some great, down home wisdom in it.
Karen Chung
I've been on a Mark Twain kick, having just finished listening to (Librivox readings of) The Innocents Abroad, which I loved; Tom Sawyer, which I enjoyed a lot; and Huckleberry Finn, which I enjoyed less; and thought I'd find out what this lesser-known book was like. I guess I was at a point of diminishing returns. I happened to listen to the author's notes at the end before starting the book, in the process learning that the two Italian twins in the story started out as conjoined twins, but the ...more
Jul 22, 2012 Joseph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pudd'nhead Wilson is a brisk, strange concoction of adventure, mystery and social commentary. It is also a disjointed combination of the astute and the naive; Twain shows biting commentary on the wickedness of slave laws, but appears to condone the 'honor' of the barbaric custom of dueling; he cleverly explains the forensic power of fingerprints (before they were used commonly in criminal investigation) but also ascribes scientific power to the flim-flammery of palmistry. Even the title feels od ...more
Jun 29, 2007 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is definitely a well-kept secret. There are a lot of unknown Twain novels that are quite good, but this is sometimes referred to by critics as the third of his truly American novels. I like this book, and considering I had to write a whole research paper on it that's saying something. As a story its good, with a murder mystery, daggers, children switched at birth, etc... But on a deeper level it deals with slavery and miscegenation, humanity and the nature v. nurture concept. Very interesti ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
A+ for Mark Twain! This is my first book that I have read by him, and I found it absolutely amazing. For one, I am not usually a fan of classic books (or maybe I just haven't really given myself a chance at them), but I found myself engaged and ready to finish this book as fast as I could.

Surprisingly, this was one of our books for English III that we had to read. I just finished it, and I just can't stop saying just how great it was. I am shocked by how Mark Twain was able to create such an ama
Jun 30, 2009 Helynne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We all read Tom Sawyer when we were kids, and most of us had read Huckleberry Finn in high school English class. These are both great American classics, and deserve all the attention and various film versions they get. However, I believe that Pudd'nhead Wilson must be one of Mark Twain's most unsung masterpieces. This story, named for a bright, but eccentric young attorney, Tom Wilson, whose community thinks he is a "pudd'nhead," makes some very astute statements about the ironies of racism and ...more
Mar 30, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Pudd'nhead Wilson tells the story of two babies, one white, one a slave, switched by the slave's mother. The story follows those boys as they grow up, and even includes a good old fashioned murder mystery. It is a fantastic read. My favorite parts of the book were the short calendar entries that begin each chapter, a few examples:

July 4 - Statistics show that we lose more fools on this day than in all the other days of the year put together. This proves, by the number left in stock, that one Fou
Jan 02, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mark-twain
An interesting commentary on prejudice. I found it particularly interesting that the prejudice most emphasized was that against the title character. I thought it interesting that the townspeople were able to recognize that they were wrong about David Wilson's intelligence, but unable to see (indeed, I am not sure that Twain's story really demonstrates) that the prejudice against an entire class of people is wrong.
Both Roxy's and "Tom's" attitudes toward their race seems to agree with those of t
Nov 07, 2010 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting novel in a number of respects, Pudd’nhead Wilson was one of Twain’s later works. Incorporating common devices from previous literature, such as the exchange of infants that he used in his own The Prince and the Pauper, Twain has created a memorable and unique work that, if not one of his most outstanding, is nevertheless worthy of attention. It seems very much an experimental novel, reaching in creative directions but somehow lacking a smoothness and unity that would elevate it to ...more
Sep 12, 2012 Marcus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The trouble with studying literature is that close examination of a book can drain the enjoyment from reading it. As the feller said, if you take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you'll discover is a non-working cat.

Every now and then you strike lucky, and your deep study of a book only increases your enjoyment of it. Puddn'head Wilson blends a fairly standard baby-swap plot device with a proto-crime-novel thing in the second half, but as usual with Twain, it's the dessicated pr
Feb 09, 2013 Joyce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The note of the author at the very end of the book made me laugh more than any of the rest of the book did. Twain wrote at the end there in his candid non-fiction way that is so charmingly witty.

The rest of the book was a delight to read as well. It was a great carrier (as most of his books are) of his opinion and beliefs regarding slavery, albeit put forth in a very creative manner (murder mystery, switched babies, oriental daggers, and all that jazz).

I was almost afraid of the book not havin
Aug 16, 2013 Michele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2013
I had just told someone I had somewhat of a photographic memory for the books I have read, so imagine my horror when I found my own writing inside this book!
Yes, it had been 20 years and during college, which is so crazy, but still, I took it pretty hard.

The first time I read this, I remember I felt so bad that a son could treat his mother like he did, but I think I get it this time.
Tom (Chambers) is black but when he lives in the white world with all its evils, he becomes wicked and a black-hea
Yair Ben-Zvi
Jan 21, 2011 Yair Ben-Zvi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best and most affecting story I've read from Twain so far. Starting out i thought it would just be a prince and the pauper story set in the pre civil war south, but twain creates something great for his story. Tom Driscoll is a weak iago and Chambers the poor othello. Twain's statements on the absurdities of racial ideologies of the time (as well as the practice of slavery as a whole) are witty and acid tongued. Twain speaks as part historian part misanthrope not apologizing for the time or ...more
Oct 14, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I grabbed this quickly at the library, needing a book on tape to listen to for a car ride, and wanting to hear some Twain. (Kind of a "should read". Yes, Twain is clever and dry and funny. And looks at issues of race. This is the story of 2 young men born on the same day, one white, one black, though they both look very white and are nearly identical. The mother of the black boy who is also the nanny of the white boy, switches them at seven months, to avoid her child being sold down the river. A ...more
May 11, 2016 Yibbie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries
I liked this one much better than the last Twain work I read, but then I rather like the tongue in cheek type of humor. Twain is certainly a master there.
I shelved it as a mystery even though you, as the reader, are never mystified; instead it's a mystery to the characters. It done well enough. The only week point was Wilson's refusal to consider Tom as a suspect. It made for a more dramatic ending, but seems far fetched.
There is a lot of social commentary woven in. It doesn't take much to figu
Jul 24, 2008 Kathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely love this novel. I had to read it for an American Southern Literature class in undergrad, and I think it's amazing. Twain's somewhat twisted sense of humor comes through in this social satire that questions racism and even the idea of race itself.
Jul 29, 2015 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Twain can certainly spin a story. Despite his remarks at the end that told how Pudd'nhead Wilson changed radically from a short amusing tale of the twins to what it became, this is a must read!

The tale is beautifully told. You just know that Pudd'nhead Wilson's recreation of collecting fingerprints was going to be important. Frankly, the tale lay wide open for the reader, yet that did not diminish the beauty of it one iota.

I bet some will miss the storytelling wonders in order to scold a ce
Mark Twain never fails to weave an extraordinary tale! Chapters start out with thought-provoking and humorous aphorisms from Puddin’head Wilson’s calendar to the delight of the reader. This story takes one through many layers of issues dealing with anti-slavery, relationships between father figures and son, and mother and son, scientific discovery, deception, mystery and suspense. The characters are fascinating and speak in the vernacular of their station in life, which is part of the genius in ...more
Brandy Wilcox
Mar 20, 2015 Brandy Wilcox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors. This is why I read the book. David "Pudd’nhead" Wilson, a lawyer who collects fingerprints as a hobby, makes a regrettable remark that causes people to call him Pudd'nhead. He later meets a slave woman by the name of Roxy and takes both her child and her master’s child’s fingerprints. Time moves on and Roxy decides to switch her son with her master’s to shield him from becoming a slave. It is funny. Her master could not even recognize his own son. Will W ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Frank rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because of a reference to it in Jon Clinch's afterword to Finn. I was startled by how bad it was. Wright Morris, in his engaging introduction to the text, quotes William Dean Howells on Twain's writing style: "Mr. Clemens is the first writer to use in extended writing the fashion we all use in thinking, and to set down the thing that comes into his mind without fear or favor of the thing that went before or the thing that may be about to follow." Morris goes on wryly to note tha ...more
Apr 09, 2011 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first Mark Twain book I've read since starting Tom Sawyer as a kid and putting it down in favor of the Hardy Boys. God forgive me, I see now what I've been missing! Pudd'nhead Wilson is the kind of novel I'd give the lesser part of my soul to be able to write. It's incredibly witty and entertaining, as well as chock full of dialog authentic enough to put Elmore Leonard to shame. It contains a lot of familiar Twain tropes, though it also blazes new territory as perhaps the first novel ...more
Amusing and cautionary tale of deception which doubles as a fable on the evils of slavery. This is perhaps one of the first novels that outlines "white privilege". Written in the late 1800s, this novel is way ahead of its time. Twain was able to see the viability of fingerprints as a form of evidence long before it was adopted in real life. That ability to understand the long term impact of science in ways that change world views is extraordinary. The book is not without it's pitfalls. Slavery i ...more
Apr 04, 2014 CJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm pretty sure I read this when I was in Middle School, since I had an omnibus collection of Mark Twain that I loved and because I remembered long stretches of it. I also know that we watched the American Playhouse version back when I was in High School, so that also could have been why I knew a lot of it. Still, it's a short book and one that holds up to multiple readings. I put it up there with The Prince and the Pauper and Huckleberry Finn.

Like the latter, racism is a central topic. But unli
Mar 03, 2011 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twain's writing seems to always produce characters a reader either roots for or against. This short story falls in line with typical Twain characterization. The premise of the story is about two boys, one slave and one master's son, switched by the slave boy's mother to prevent her son from being sold "down the river." She's able to accomplish this by the fact that she is of mixed heritage and her son's father was a white man. Therefore, he looks white and easily doubles as the master's son's do ...more
John Harder
Feb 16, 2012 John Harder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After my third readying of Pudd’nhead Wilson it still holds up. Roxy, a slave, switches her child with those of her master’s so her youngster may be raised free and her master’s child raised a slave. What ensues supports Twain’s long held contention that everything is training, not genetics. I have always been a little shocked by Twain’s strong dislike of slavery – he is downright bigoted against it. Who would not want an unpaid personal servant? Well, there is no reforming him, he is set agains ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
First Switched at Birth type book?? 12 35 Sep 20, 2014 04:12AM  
St. Anne's Readin...: Pudd'nhead Wilson Part 1 4 5 Apr 07, 2013 08:57AM  
Significance of the Italian twins? 3 49 Aug 29, 2011 05:19AM  
Switching the babies (for those who read the book) 5 43 Jun 16, 2011 07:16AM  
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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He apprenticed with a printer. He also work
More about Mark Twain...

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“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.” 867 likes
“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” 343 likes
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