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Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

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slides on Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, in context in US legal history and theatrical production.

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Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

  1. 1. Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  2. 2. Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (1835-1910) • Missouri native, world traveller, spends most of his career as a writer in NY/Connecticut. • humorist, regionalist, known for historical fiction, travel writing, short stories, satires, dark allegories on humanity • best known for Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn • Regionalist writing captures sound of Missouri/Mississippi River dialects • published work spans Gilded Age – post Civil War America, time of unchecked increase in wealth for American industry owners, capitalists – Rapid increase in inventions, technology Photograph of Mark Twain, Century Magazine, December 1893
  3. 3. Twain’s writing: In Time and Out of Time: • often looks backward in time: before Civil War, or into Middle Ages, or even to Garden of Eden • looking backward often addresses issues of Twain’s present moment • Forward looking “cutting edge” interest in new technology: typesetting machines telegraphs/telephones, light bulb… fingerprinting • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court • Early interest in defining American culture as distinct from old Europe (“The Innocents Abroad”) • Later writings—increasingly dark satirist of human vanities and pretensions (“The Mysterious Stranger”)
  4. 4. Pudd’nhead Wilson • written 1892-3, following Twain’s lecture tour in Europe (lots of Italian references) • Published 1894 • Story completely transforms in the drafting! – originally a comedy/farce about the Italian twins—originally Siamese twins – Twain claimed that the story of Wilson and Tom took over— changed from comedy to tragedy • Setting: 1830-1850s, Dawson’s Landing = slaveholding Missouri town on Mississippi River
  5. 5. Twain’s interests in Twins • Chang and Eng (1874) • Tocci Twins (Italian), born 1875 • Twain’s “Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins” (1869) – “Chang” Nye and “Eng” Riley—(duo humorist and poet on tour) introduced by Twain as Siamese selves, twinned minds • Twin-like, interchangeable characters in Twain’s fiction: – Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer – The Prince and the Pauper (look identical, change social positions for a time)
  6. 6. 1890s Issues in Pudd’nhead • New fingerprinting technology – introduced by Francis Galton, Finger Prints, 1892 – Twain’s anachronismpre Civil War case
  7. 7. Race Issues in the Courts, 1890s • Homer Plessy (left)— challenges segregation on train on East Louisiana Railroad – Explicitly defying state Louisiana segregation law passed in 1890 – Purposefully stages the event to be arrested (boards white car, announces his racial identity) • Plessy challenges arrest on U.S. Constitutional grounds • Judge Ferguson, Criminal District Court of New Orleans finds Plessy guilty
  8. 8. Plessy vs. Ferguson • Plessy’s case: His arrest violates the 14th Amendment • Context: post-Civil War “Reconstruction Amendments” to U. S. Constitution: – 13th Amendment (1865): abolishes slavery, except as punishment for convicted crime – 14th Amendment (1868): All born in U.S. are considered U.S. citizens, served and protected equally by the law. • (Also no one who participated in a rebellion against the U.S. can be elected to government office. And former slave-holders can’t sue the Govt. for money for “lost property.”) – 15th Amendment (1870): Equal Voting Rights (*for men): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” • Plessy appeals all the way to the Supreme Court through the early to mid 1890s
  9. 9. • Supreme Court ruling (1896, 2 years after Pudd’nhead Wilson’s publication) : • Court rules 8-1 against Plessy • Institutes national “separate but equal” precedent, in place until the 1950s / 60s – Not appealed successfully until Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954)
  10. 10. “Race” as “Social Class”? • Racial Discrimination-- same as social class discrimination? Plessy vs. Ferguson case: Chief Justice Brown presented race difference as a “social” prejudice and therefore outside legislation: • “Laws permitting, and even requiring (the separation of blacks and whites) in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other.......... The argument also assumes that social prejudice may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the Negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet on terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits and a voluntary consent of individuals....Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.... • Lone “color blind” Dissent of Justice Harlan: “…in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”
  11. 11. Biological Racism • “one drop rule” (heredity) • effect of blood inheritance on abilities, behavior • Fingerprinting and race in 1890s (Galton and eugenics) – Eugenics: control of human population by selective breeding. Anxieties in U.S. about immigrant and black populations intermingling with people from NW Europe • Fear of Mixed Races: provocative, challenging, difficult to categorize! Leading to social instability?
  12. 12. Twain and Race • Twain’s representation of racial stereotypes—controversial • How is Twain responding to race issues of his time? • Mixed Race issues—source of challenge to social institutions
  13. 13. Stage Adaptation • Dir. by actor Frank Mayo, 1895 • Involves a white actress playing Roxy’s character – (remarked on by reviews) • Play adaptation: Roxy mistakenly sends the wrong boy to the christening—not planned • Chambers—given a larger role–love plot with Rowena
  14. 14. Further Reading Pudd'nhead Wilson Online Archive: • http://etext.virginia.edu/railton/wilson/pwhompg.html

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