Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd'nhead Wilson Summary and Analysis of A Whisper to the Reader


Twain opens the novel by speaking directly to his reader. He begins by acknowledging his own shortcomings in the legal field, and concedes that such ignorance could result in mistakes when penning a courtroom scene. He then reassures the reader of the legal chapters' accuracy, claiming they were reviewed, revised, and corrected by a trained lawyer - William Hicks. According to the author, Hicks studied law in Southwest Missouri thirty-five years ago, and though he was a bit rusty, brushed up on his authorities for this novel.

Twain also reveals that Hicks is currently living in Florence, Italy; this is the same locale where Twain is himself authoring the story. Specifically, Hicks is working in Macaroni Vermicelli's horse feed shed for exercise and board. The shed, Twain tells us, is just beyond the stone where Dante Alighieri - author of the La Divina Commedia - used to sit six hundred years ago.

Twain concludes this brief introduction by noting that as he writes, busts of ancient Italian senators look down upon him, just as they stared down on Dante all those centuries ago. He says that the statues are silently asking him to adopt them into his family, which is he is pleased to do, as his own "remotest ancestors are but spring chickens compared with these robed and stately antiques."


On the surface it seems Twain is attempting to breathe an air of legitimacy into his work. Though admitting his own shortcomings in the field of law, he tries to bolster the book's authority by assuring the reader that it has been pored over by a legal expert. Further, the author tries to puff up his own consequence by linking himself to Dante Alighieri - one of history's greatest poets - and by embracing the ancient Florentine senators as his own ancestors.

However, closer examination reveals that what appears to be an attempt at legitimacy is in fact absurd satire. Twain's so-called legal expert, who ensures the accuracy of the novel's legal passages, has not practiced law in decades. He has to brush up on the law before he can even revise the book. Similarly, it is somewhat ridiculous to suggest that the author could join the ranks of a writer the likes of Dante by simply sitting upon the same rock. And for all we know, the Florentine senators that Twain so eagerly embraces, may be the same public officials that exiled the illustrious poet in the early Fourteenth Century.

Finally, Twain may be using this brief introduction to connect his own life and experiences to the story he is penning. The novel's title character, Pudd'nhead Wilson, may be modeled after Twain's acquaintance, William Hicks. Both men are described as lawyers who go decades without actually practicing the law. Further, the city in which Twain is writing and the busts looking down upon him, may have inspired the author to pen the twins Angelo and Luigi Capello, themselves of Florentine nobility.