Although you may know Mark Twain (aka. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or just Clemens for short) primarily as the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, this all-important American author also penned a strange tale entitled Pudd’nhead Wilson (Wikipedia article).
Anyone who attempts to read this story should use a version with footnotes and a solid introduction – my copy is from the Oxford World Classic series and was immensely helpful in providing background. This story was originally written in 1894 and called The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins (Mark Twain in his Times).
I refer to the story as ‘strange’ because despite the title, the character of Tom/Valet de Chambers comes to the fore for most of the book; the lawyer which the town refers to as a nitwit (Pudd’nhead) seems almost a side character; and the entire tale began as a part of Twain’s fascination with conjoined Siamese twins (Mark Twain in his Times). References to his original story about these conjoined twins are imperfectly edited out of the final version.
The genre of the book – although asserted by Twain as both a tragedy and a comedy – is also unclear (Mark Twain in his Times). Twain wrote it in a bid for cash during tough financial times and made a cool $6500 off its publication in The Century Magazine (Mark Twain in his Times). I suspect that the sensational descriptions of the conjoined twins were to stir up media attention for the magazine, which it certainly received (see the promotional efforts for the tale here and related reviews in The Century here). Another random but interesting faucet of the book is the calendar and monthly, associated quotes written by Pudd’nhead Wilson himself:
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” – Pudd’nhead Wilson
“We know all about the habits of the ant, we know all about the habits of the bee, but we know nothing at all about the habits of the oyster. It seems almost certain that we have been choosing the wrong time for studying the oyster.” – Pudd’nhead Wilson
Despite the occasional odds element to this novel, I thoroughly enjoyed the Shakespearean intrigue generated by babies switched at birth, noble vanities, and family betrayal. A good read for a brain in need of diversion!