At the beginning of Pudd’nhead Wilson a young slave woman, fearing for her infant’s son’s life, exchanges her light-skinned child with her master’s. From this rather simple premise Mark Twain fashioned one of his most entertaining, funny, yet biting novels. On its surface, Pudd’nhead Wilson possesses all the elements of an engrossing nineteenth-century mystery: reversed identities, a horrible crime, an eccentric detective, a suspenseful courtroom drama, and a surprising, unusual solution. Yet it is not a mystery novel. Seething with the undercurrents of antebellum southern culture, the book is a savage indictment in which the real criminal is society, and racial prejudice and slavery are the crimes. Written in 1894, Pudd’nhead Wilson glistens with characteristic Twain humor, with suspense, and with pointed irony: a gem among the author’s later works.
Once I got past Twain’s characteristic offensive language concerning slaves and persons with darker skin, I actually loved this book. It made it easier that the narrator’s position regarding skin color was not derogatory, just how he referred to them, as was common in the 1890s when the book was written. The novel had Twain’s usual wit and clever dialog. It had a fascinating premise, and the courtroom scene was so much fun! The whole thing was an engaging read! I’m surprised it’s not as well known as some of Mark Twain’s other works. Maybe since it wasn’t a “children’s book” it wasn’t as popular, but I think it could stand it’s own against The Adventure of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.
Would I recommend this to my fellow book lovers? Yes
Would I recommend this to my teen daughter? Yes
4.5 of 5 stars