Wednesday, June 19, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Mark Twain

Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Author: Mark Twain

Prince Edward of England accidentally switch places with his doppelganger, Tom Canty, whose life of poverty and brutality on the streets of London could hardly be less like his own.  The plot thickens when the King, Henry VIII, dies and Edward must succeed him.  The novel, first serialized in 1881, was Mark Twain's first historical fiction work.  The already famous author wrote the book after his second European publicity tour.

Tom's adjustment to life in the royal court is mostly comical.  All of his attendants attribute his evident amnesia to madness.  But he adapts and, indeed, grows to like his new station quite a lot.  Who wouldn't?  Edward's transition is a lot more perilous.  Miraculously, he survives Tom's abusive father long enough to be rescued by Miles Hendon, a down-on-his-luck nobleman.  When Edward and Miles are soon separated, the prince turned pauper is exposed to the darker side of pre-Elizabethan England.

Through both stories is woven a quest for justice.  Both boys witness, from opposite perspectives, the unfairness of the criminal justice system.  Each, while acting as King, exacts reforms.

As I have written before, I love Mark Twain.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is certainly one of my all-time favorites.  I've also read Tom Sawyer, The Mysterious Stranger, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, parts of Life on the Mississippi and Innocents Abroad as well as numerous short stories.  This was my first time reading The Prince and the Pauper.  It shares theme with other Twain works.  For a time, Edward falls in with a gang of thieves, clearly a fantasy the author likes to indulge - a midwesterner's version of pirate tales.  

Most interesting to me, the Miles Hendon character serves a similar narrative function to that of Jim in Huck Finn.  Both men rescue their respective protagonists from abusive fathers and save the boys' lives numerous times over the course of the books.  The psychological insight revealed in these relationships is ahead of its time.  It's much discussed in education and other industries focused on children: a child with a troubled life can survive and even thrive with the help of just one adult (can't be a parent) who cares about them and believes in them.

There's more Twain on my shelves.  I'm looking forward to spending more time with his work.


  1. I haven't read this one by Twain. I have read "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" but that is set way before.

    1. But written later. Prince and the Pauper was published in 1881, Connecticut Yankee in 1889. The latter was actually my introduction to Twain, in comic book form.

  2. I haven't read this one- though I have heard of it and know the general story. Sounds like a great read. The Mark Twain House and Museum is in my state (CT) and it is a place I hope to visit at some point. Have you ever been?

    1. I have only ever driven past Hartford but no kidding, I think of the Twain House every time I do. If we ever go for a proper visit, it will be at the top of my must-see list.