The Prince and the Pauper is Mark Twain’s first attempt at writing historical fiction. Stylistically, the novel is very different from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). It combines his fascination with Europe’s romantic past with his natural bent for satirizing the injustices and social conventions of his own age. He was to do the same later, to far better effect, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and, with less success, in Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896).
In The Prince and the Pauper, Twain begins by challenging authority, but in the end, he submits to it. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, he also challenges authority. The earlier book is also more optimistic, because it reflects Twain’s belief in progress.
Although twenty-first century readers think of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as children’s books, The Prince and the Pauper is the only novel Twain ever wrote specifically for children, especially his two young daughters. He aims the other two books at general audiences of all ages. Except for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), children’s literature was very didactic up to this time, and contemporary reviewers did not know what to make of it. Carroll and Twain introduced the then-radical concept that children’s literature should be entertaining, which is one reason why their books are still being read in the twenty-first century.
One recurring theme in the children’s literature of the nineteenth century was children’s obedience—or lack of—to authority; books in which children obey authority figures always have happy endings, and those books in which children disobey have unhappy ones (if these characters lived long enough). Twain mercilessly parodies these stories with “Story of the Bad Little Boy” (1865) and “The Story of the Good Little Boy” (1875), in which exactly the opposite happens: the good-boy story has an unhappy ending, and the bad-boy story has a happy ending.
In The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Canty is much better off if he stays away from his abusive, alcoholic, controlling father, who is both a thief and a murderer. Twain was one of the first authors of children’s literature to recognize the concept of parental abuse and to make the father the principal villain of the story. However, Twain had been quite naïve to think that Tom would not have been affected. By this time, Tom would have suffered significant psychological damage, even if he were able to avoid the cycle of the children of abuse becoming abusive parents themselves. In Twain’s defense, the psychology of abuse was not well understood during his lifetime.
Twain begins to contrast and compare Edward and Tom as early as the novel’s opening paragraph. They are born on the same day, but Tom is poor and not wanted by his parents; Edward is incredibly wealthy and is much desired by his parents and his country. Edward dreams about being free, and Tom wonders what it would be like to be a prince. After they inadvertently exchange places, Tom has an easier time of it, because from his reading and tutoring by the kindly Father Andrew he has a rough idea of what it means to be a prince and is willing to ask Humphrey Marlow, Prince Edward’s whipping boy, for help. Tom’s intelligence and sense of fairness lead him to make humane decisions. Edward is used to being protected and to having his commands obeyed instantly, so he has a rude awakening when he finds himself in danger and when no one pays attention to his orders. Except for Miles Hendon, all react with laughter.
In this novel, Twain employs many themes and devices, which he learned so expertly as a teller of tall tales. These themes and devices include tongue-in-cheek irony, ridiculous understatement, exaggeration, coincidence, and exchange of identities. He also uses the occasion to underscore some of the social follies, hypocrisies, and injustices of his own age without actually having to attack them directly, a technique he later uses in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He does this by treating the social and legal conventions of Tudor England satirically, trusting that his readers will recognize the parallels with their own respective times. In one chapter, “In Prison,” religious intolerance is the target. It is a chapter in which two women who have befriended Edward and Miles are burned at the stake because they are Anabaptists. Tom Canty, as king, labors to change laws that are unduly harsh or blatantly unjust, and Edward learns of the unnecessary cruelty of prisons at first hand, as well as the nature of poverty. By becoming a better person, he will become a better king. Both Tom and Edward are innocents who, like Joan of Arc in Twain’s later book, fight for justice.
Twain’s major criticism of society, both in Tudor times and in his own, is the mistake of gauging a person’s true worth based on that person’s outward appearance, that is, by judging them, for example, strictly by the clothes they wear. Edward and Tom are not identical twins, so it seems that the premise that no one, except for Tom’s mother, would recognize their true identities would be difficult for an adult reader to accept. In addition, the chain of coincidences that lead to Edward’s and Tom’s predicaments is quite implausible. However, Twain executes his premises so masterfully in this intricately plotted novel that even an adult reader is more than willing to suspend disbelief.
Another premise of the novel is that anyone can be a king, just as Tom, given the opportunity, quickly learns to be a good one. It is an easy assumption to accept, because it is prodemocratic. However, Twain does establish that Tom was able to read both English and Latin before he made the switch with Edward. Tom and Edward are equally intelligent and virtuous young boys, though born to different worlds. Chance and circumstances alone determine much of an individual’s outward behavior and appearance. In the context of the nature/nurture controversy, Twain’s belief is that a person’s environment, more so than their ancestry, or genes, determines their character. Twain does not let Tom keep the throne; he restores Edward, who is, by the end of the novel, much more qualified to be king. Edward’s adventure had been a kind of moral training, and he becomes a better king for it.
Miles Hendon, a minor noble, is the one character most like the traditional protagonist in heroic fiction; in a more conventional story, he would be the central character. When Edward meets him, Miles is on a quest to claim his inheritance and be united with his true love. He is warmhearted, sympathetic, kind, and loyal, and he interrupts his quest to help Edward, a purely selfless act given that he does not believe that Edward really is the Prince of Wales and that he will never be rewarded for his actions. Later in the novel, Miles accepts the lashes meant for Edward, and in prison, he makes sure the boy gets more food than himself, still believing Edward to be a commoner. Still, it is these actions that ultimately allow him to fulfill his quest.
In his novel, Twain provides footnotes and incorporates passages from major histories of England, including David Hume’s History of England (1754), Leigh Hunt’s The Town: Its Memorable Characters and Events (1848), John Timbs’s Curiosities of London (1855), and J. Hammond Trumbull’s The True-Blue Laws of Connecticut and New Haven (1876). This feature of The Prince and the Pauper helps to minimize its occasional anachronisms. For instance, a reference is made to a plumber, although there had been no such trade in the sixteenth century. Twain also had spent time checking the settings for his novel when he visited England in 1879.
Type of Work:
Social and political satireSetting
Edward Tudor-young Prince of Wales
Tom Canty-a pauper boy
Miles Hendon-a kindhearted noblemen
A boy was born on an autumm afternoon to a poverty-stricken Canty family. With the state of London’s sixteenth-century economy staring them in the face, the family did not want the child.
On the same day another English lad was born into the rich and royal Tudor family. These parents savored their baby – infact all of England had longed, hoped and prayed for this son. Now that he had arrived the, British subjects were overjoyed; young Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales was revered by all – in stark contrast to Tom Cantry’s birth, of which no one took note excepting his family, who was only troubled by his arrival.
Tom Cantry grew up in Offal Court. He lived a wrentched life, and indeed, knew no other. Every morning Tom was sent off to beg. If he came home emty-handed, his father and his grandmother would soundly beat him. So, often, when the afternoon rolled around and the boy reckoned that he had begged enough to avoid a beating, he would race to Father Andrew’s monestary for the remainder of the day. Over the months, good Father taught Tom how to read, gave him some intruction in Latin, and recited wondrous tales of royalty. And because of his education, intelligence and grace, Tom seemed far wiser than others his age. Peoplke would frequently come seeking his advice, despite his low station.
But it was the beggar boy’s greatest wish to witness a real prince all decked out in his royal attire; and one January morning Tom obtained his wish. He journeyed to Charing Village, the site of the King’s majestic palace, and, to his amazment, inside the fence he beheld a young boy his age – a true prince. As he drew closer and closer to observe the little gentleman, suddenly he was rudely snatched up by a soldier. The prince, Edward Tudor, saw this action and came to Tom’s rescue, and afterward he invited the young pauper into the palace. So, the Prince of Poverty passed the palace gates to join hands with the Prince of Limitless Plenty.
Safely within the castle, the prince gave Tom some food. Soon they were comfortably chatting back and forth about their different families and opposite lifestyles. On a whim, Tom and Edward changed into each others clothes. And when they stared into the mirror, a miricle seemed to have happened: they appeared to be twins – the same hair and eyes, face and countenance, voice and manner. Then, while still in the changed garments, Edward noticed Tom’s bruised hand and went out to reprimand the guard who had caused it. The soldier laughed at the waif’s pretense to royal wrath, instantly tossed him out thegate. Tom Canty was now the new Prince of Wales and Edward became the prince of paupers.
Edward’s life as a beggar was not as he had been accustomed. First, he was abused and ridiculed by a crowd as he professed to be England’s rightful prince. Then, Tom’s drunken father found him, and took him home to Offal Court, where Edward was beaten. That night, however, the father received word that he was wanted for murder. As he hurriedly rushed to escape, dragging the boy behind him, Edward managed to twist free from his grasp, and he disappeared into the crowded street.
Once a distance from the Canty house, Edward put himself in a precarious postion by again trying to convince others that he was a prince. Of course, the commoners and merchants again mocked the young boy. But just at this moment a gentleman, Miles Hendon, stood up to defend Edward. While he did not believe Edward’s wild claim to be Prince of Wales, Hendon decided to be the boy’s champion, take him on his journey back to his village, and minister to him until he came to his senses. It had been seven years since Miles Hendon had been home, and he was anxious to see his father, his older brother, Arthur, and Edith, his true love.
As Miles and Edward traveled together, they received word that King Henry VIII had died. Thus, Edward was now indeed King of all England – and most likely the only living soul who mourned the death of Henry.
Throughout his trek homeward, Miles treated Edward as though he were a real king. He helped him dress, waited on him, fed him, and took care of all his needs. In return, Edward dubbed Miles a knight.
When the twosome finally arrived at Hendon Hall, Miles was shocked to find that his older brother and his father had died; even worse, his conniving younger brother Hugh has a ssumed control of his business and estate and taken Edith for himself in marriage. No servants claimed to recognize Miles; even charming Edith failed to acknowledge him. In fact, Hugh had Miles and Edward thrown into prison, falsely accusing them of being beggars and vagabonds.
His stay in prison convinced Edward of inhumanity of British justice. For example, after being comforted by two kind women prisoners, these were taken out and burned at the stake for being Baptists. He also came to know a half-witted spinster who, having stolen a yard or two of cloth from a weaver, was to be hanged for it. But the beggar-king was particularly distressed by the tale of a young imprisoned apprentice, who, having found an escaped hawk, took it home. The court convicted him of stealing the bird and sentenced him to death. Edward was taught a great lesson: “King’s should go to school to try their own laws at times, and so learn mercy.”
Miles finally was brought to trail and given a sentence of two hours in the stocks. Edward was furious with the humiliation of his friend. Then, after his release, Miles and Edward hurried toward London; a new king was to be crowned.
While the true king wanderwed about the land “poorly clad, poorly fed, cuffed and derided, herded with thieves and murderers in a jail, and called idiot and imposter by all, “the mock-King, Tom Canty, enjoyed his adventures. At first he felt as though he was imprisoned. Even the process of getting dressed took fourteen people! Eating was as difficult an understanding. Moreover, he had to worry about all manner of dull work: petitions were read, proclamations heard, and patents and all manner of wordy, repetitious and wearisome papers had to be attended to. It was all very drab. But then Tom ment Edward’s former sevant boy, a bright lad who told Tom all about the ways of the castle, its various degrees of rank and file, and how to deal with the palace intrigue. Heproved to be a veritable gold mine for Tom. The unseasoned yet clever boy used the information he gained to become comfortable as a prince, and to reassure his “caretakers” that he hadn’t gone mad.
Slowly, Tom grew to enjoy the privileges of a riler. Early on, he often thought about the lost prince and sincerely longed for his return. But as time wore on, and Edward didn’t appear, Tom thought less and less about him. When Tom’s mind did call up the possible fate of the genuine prince, he felt even greater guilt and shame; and he did his best to drive Edward from his mind. He eventually succceeded so well at this that, after the death of King Henry, Tom actually looked forward to abtaining England’s throne.
Now, all of England had come to Westminster Abbey to witness the coronation of King Edward. As the archbisop of Canterbury lifted the crown to place it on Tom’s head, a cry was heard: “I am the King!”Tom was delighted to see Edward and stepped down to allow the ragged youth to take his place on the throne. But the crowd was unconvinced; the real Edward must prove his claim to the crown: for weeks the Great Seal had been missing, and the true Prince of Wales would know where it was. After much fretting, Edward remembered where he had last placed it. This was evidence to all; Edward Tudor was immediately coronated King Edward VI.
Edward lived for only a few years, but during those years he reigned most mercifully. Miles was made Earl of Kent, while Miles’ brother was stripped of his land and cast into prison. Tom Cantry was commissioned as the King’s Ward, and as Chief Governor over Christ’s hospital, a shelter that fed the minds, hearts, and stomachs of orphans and children of indigent people. Frequently reminiscing about his experience as a peasant, King Edward demonstrated great compassion during a harsh period of English history. Because he understood his people, and ruled them in love, they in turn loved him, and exceedingly mourned his passing.
In 1835, when Halley’s comet streaked across the skies, Mark Twain was born in an obscure farm town. Sevebty five years later, when the comet reappeared, Twain died, a famous author. He is a well-loved American writer and the inventor of the mythical epitome of American boyhood< Tom Sawyer.
While his more famous Adventures of Hucleberry Finn was yet unfinished, Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper. Here we have two people living one another’s lives for a brief, instructive time. The reader wants to believe it could happen because he would secretly like to see the beggar boy rise in life, while the privileged princeling is brought down to have his nose rubbed in reality.
In this tale, Twain shares with us his outrage at the social injustice that exists in the 1500s, 1800s – and that even now in one form or another. By presenting a case of mistaken identity, Twain clearly and simply potrays these injustices. Such a situation seems immpossible, but like Twain sais, “It may have happened, it may not have happened; but it could have happened.”
Filed Under: Literature Summaries