Mark Twain Forum Reviews: “Pudd’nhead Wilson: Manuscript and Revised Versions, with “Those Extraordinary Twins”

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Pudd’nhead Wilson: Manuscript and Revised Versions, with “Those Extraordinary Twins.” Edited by Benjamin Griffin. University of California Press, 2024. Pp. 872. Hardcover: $85.00, ISBN 9780520398092. Paperback: $19.95, ISBN 9780520398108.

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The release of the Works of Mark Twain edition of Pudd’nhead Wilson from the Mark Twain Project is the highlight of the 2024 publishing year for Mark Twain scholarship. If you add only one book to your Mark Twain research library this year, as of today, this is the one. It is time to retire those Norton Critical Editions from the 1980s and 2000s. This edition is founded on the bedrock of the original 1892 handwritten, 81,500-word manuscript now known as the “Morgan manuscript” that has never been previously published intact. Samuel Clemens himself referred to it as the “original extravaganza.” It is called the Morgan manuscript because Clemens sold it in 1909 to financier J. Pierpont Morgan and it is now housed in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

Also included in this Works edition, is the 52,000-word revised version that most readers are familiar with that was serialized in Century Magazine in 1893-94. The unauthorized changes implemented by Century editors are rejected in this volume but are noted in the Textual Apparatus section. This edition also includes “Those Extraordinary Twins”–the material that was excised from a typescript of the Morgan manuscript, revised and later sold to Clemens’s former publisher Frank Bliss of American Publishing Company.

Mark Twain Project Editor Benjamin Griffin makes a strong case that Clemens considered the Morgan manuscript version complete, had a typewritten copy of it made, and ready for printing before financial constraints halted its publication by his own firm Webster and Company. In a desperate need for cash, Clemens pulled that typescript apart and revised it for magazine publication. The Siamese twins in the Morgan manuscript version would no longer be conjoined, but have separate bodies. Clemens described his work as a “literary Caesarean operation” (p. 353). The $6,500 Clemens received for the revised Century version, the equivalent of about $200,000 today, provided a much needed cash infusion for the Clemens family. Frank Bliss paid an additional $1,500 for book publication rights that would include the excised material (that Clemens had again revised) for a book to be sold by subscription that he would title The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins.

In a 102-page Introduction to the texts, Editor Benjamin Griffin has established himself as a genius at tracing literary genealogy as he details the “tortuous history” of the story’s composition and how each change and revision came to be made and the reasons behind them. Griffin includes a flow chart of the “Phases of Composition” during 1892 and the equivalent of a literary family tree of “Textual Transmission” as typists, typesetters, editors and publishers manipulated and made unauthorized and accidental revisions.

Throughout its composition and publishing history, Griffin details where Sam Clemens was, who he saw and who he corresponded with regarding the work. The folly of the revised versions and the surviving “vestigial” from the original work are discussed in detail. Griffin and his team of contributing editors Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Lisa Cardyn, Kerry Driscoll and  Harriet Elinor Smith have managed to put the puzzle pieces together that have evaded at least three previous editors of this proposed volume since the mid-1960s. Also included in the Introduction is a discussion of the critical reception to both magazine and book publication; how and why the edition of Chatto and Windus, Clemens’s publisher in England, ended up with slightly different text; the influence of Henry Huttleston Rogers on publication strategies; and theatrical and cinematic adaptations along with advertising posters and photographic stills.

Unlike Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there are no loveable or sympathetic protagonists in Pudd’nhead Wilson. The original Morgan manuscript intertwines two stories. Two male babies who could pass for twins in infancy–Tom Driscoll, white, and Chambers, a mixed-race baby–are switched in their cradles by Chambers’s mother Roxy to save him from a fate of slavery. Jumping forward about twenty years, Siamese twins (Luigi, with dark complexion and devilish personality and Angelo, blonde with an angelic personality) arrive from Europe and amaze the local villagers with their freakish but handsome features and opposing personalities. Amidst this backdrop is the character of attorney David “Pudd’nhead” Wilson who has a hobby of collecting fingerprints of all the villagers over the years. Wilson ends up solving a scandalous murder mystery and revealing the baby switching plot using his fingerprint collection in a stunning courtroom segment.

In addressing the critical heritage of Pudd’nhead Wilson, Griffin points out that since the 1950s and 60s the story began attracting scholarly interest with its “treatment of the nature/nurture question in connection with racial vice and virtue . . .” (p. 597). Griffin also classifies the story as an attempt to parody the tragic-mulatto melodrama popularized in the 1850s by turning it on its head–with an evil mulatto as opposed to a sympathetic one. The racial issues presented in Pudd’nhead Wilson run deeper and are more profound than those in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Griffin is up front in advising readers in a separate preface to the text titled “Offensive Language in Pudd’nhead Wilson” that the text contains 165 instances of the “nuclear bomb” N word that is used in depicting situations and dialogue that are examples of habitual, rancorous, and even playful usages. He points out the distinction between these voices of the characters and Mark Twain’s own authorial voice when he, as the narrator, speaks out.

Throughout the original manuscript version, Clemens deleted numerous passages and these are revealed in the Textual Apparatus section. Some passages, such as those assigning actions and attitudes about slavery to Percy Driscoll, Tom’s father, appear to be based on Clemens’s memories of his own father. He struck out the passage, “But he and his ancestors had always been slave-holders, and habit and heredity had made it impossible for him to realize that a negro was a human being” (p. 629). Other deleted passages are designed to shock and one wonders if they were originally intended to stun and entertain Clemens’s wife Livy who often made him delete unsavory passages. For example, when the adult Tom Driscoll discovers he is the switched mixed-race baby, he rages, “I must be the same careless, slangy, useless youth as before, outside, but inside I shall be a nigger with a grievance–with all that implies of hate and absence of shame …” (p. 665). Perhaps a long, deleted passage (p. 685) with an apparent psychopathic Tom Driscoll laughingly torturing spiders and a grasshopper in vivid detail was also meant for Livy’s eyes only……..

.….Finish reading Barbara Schmidt’s review at the Mark Twain Forum

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