I first read The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson over thirty five years ago in an high school English class on Mystery Fiction. I remember only two works, Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and a short story, A Nine Mile Walk, by Harry Kemelman (1947). Classic fiction is always particularly inspiring to me because it is often a snapshot from a time and place and attitude, rather than historical—and the test of time tends to weed out insubstantial works. This does not mean that everyone will like it or find value, and our discussion was exemplary!
Our first responder found the sentences in the book to be extraordinarily long! Another found the writing to seem more modern than he had expected, and still others found the vocabulary antiquated. We had a lot of discussion about how confusing and unbelievable the story line was, almost as if Mark Twain had just thrown it together – which fit with his own afterword explaining that he had wanted to write a farce about Siamese twins but was forced to throw out the farce in favor of the tragedy! Many of us felt that the story still depended on the Siamese twins, others finally proved that the author had taken “those twins apart and made two separate men of them.”[i]
We discussed issues of race and Mark Twain’s intention, as well as some of his other works. One member felt that the racial issues and local attitudes were similar to Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Several members had read that book and we discussed it a bit more than we would usually stray. I think we may need to read and discuss Go Set a Watchman on its own this year!
Despite many of the negative comments, the majority of the group seemed to like the book or were at least glad to have read it. One member referred to the discussion question about what had been happening in 1894. She had researched it and gave us a great picture of the time period – depression, bank failures, and the obvious failure of reconstruction after the Civil War.
The novel, and our discussion, has given me a lot to think about over the last few days. Which is as it should be. What connections will we make or see in the days and years ahead? Nature versus nurture? What prejudices are we harboring that will seem so obvious in hindsight? The discussion never really ends.
- Other Works Discussed:
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
- Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen
- Striptease by Carl Hiaasen (film and novel)
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Herman Melville
[i] Twain, Mark. The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. Author’s note to Those Extraordinary Twins. Signet Classic Edition 2007.