Archive for September, 2010

And they maybe sort of lived happily ever after?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

We talked in class about insiders versus outsiders and that got me thinking about what it means to be an outsider or an insider. Does Pudd’nhead Wilson, and therefore Mark Twain, represent the ideal trajectory for someone moving into a new town?

In order for someone to attain “insider” status, does that mean someone else has to suffer a debilatating fall from grace and become an “other?” It’s something that I think popular culture frequently tries to explore and yet it doesn’t always turn out to be as…eloquent, shall we say, or brilliant as Mark Twain ends up (or deceptively intertwined within a larger narrative). Perhaps this suggests something about why there aren’t many adaptations of Pudd’nhead Wilson–it’s difficult to negotiate the idea that someone will ultimately suffer as a result of someone else’s good deeds that gets him ahead of the game.

Is that why we’re supposed to be glad that “Tom” gets sold down the river? He became morally reprehensible/ambiguous, Pudd’nhead was accepted, but the community can’t disturb the equal balance between insider and outsider so someone has to go to restore balance?

It’s a somewhat cynical ending, which suggests that Twain, in addition to being sardonic, is more misanthropic than lighthearted and decepitively brilliant. But is it really the happy ending it was discussed in class if the outsider becomes the insider and the morally reprehensible insider becomes the disadvantaged outsider, and the Italian invaders leave?

Casting The Pudd’nhead Wilson Movie

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

If you’ve ever faced a lengthy reading assignment for a class and opted to watch the movie version instead, or waited for the movie of the latest popfiction craze, you might want to change your tactics for Pudd’nhead.  So far, there have only been two iterations of PHdubz in the film industry: a movie in 1916 and a made-for-tv movie in 1984.  I can’t lie, I was shocked that this tale hadn’t been recreated over and over, but sadly I’ll just have to play out the movie in my imagination, with my own cast.  Here’s what I came up with.

Pudd’nhead:  Who else but Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.?  I can’t think of anyone who could pull off bookkeeper/lawyer/mayoral candidate by day and eccentric fingerprint collector by night better than RDJ.  Plus, he knows all about being an insider turned outsider turned insider.

Roxy: This one’s tricky, Angelina Jolie’s manipulative edge would be great, but every character she plays just turns out to be Angelina by a different name.  Halle Berry’s a great actress (most of the time), but it’s too obvious, anytime there’s a black chick to be played Hollywood knocks on Halle’s door.  “Oh, we need Storm for X-men, how about Halle?  Oh, let’s make a Catwoman movie but make her black.  Is Halle free?”  Plus Halle doesn’t exactly read “1/16” so I landed on Edie Falco.  Have you seen “Nurse Jackie”?  “The Sopranos”?  Girl’s got killer acting chops, she’s manipulative, she’s a bitch, she’s Roxy.

Chambers and Tom: The Olsen twins.  Let’s be honest, Mary-Kate and Ashley aren’t really doing anything with their careers, and they love to dress up in whacky, unflattering outfits, so why not cut their hair short and make them earn those millions of dollars still flowing in from their diaper day.

The Twins: Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton.  They’ve proven in the Harry Potter films that they have chemistry, and they could totally play weird looking blonde/brunette, European brothers with differing viewpoints.

Alternate for Roxy: Lindsay Lohan.  She’s a serious actress guys.

Twain’s opinion of Native Americans

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Mark Twain was known to be a fervent abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights. But some of his writings have expressed prejudice towards Native Americans. In “The Noble Red Man,” Twain is quoted as saying, “He is ignoble—base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development.” There are several more examples at

Could Twain be attempting to deconstruct others negative opinions of Native Americans at the time or is this an opinion that does not match up with his other liberal beliefs?

Twain the Linguist

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

It is not out of line to categorize Mark Twain as an linguist.  He obviously had a fascination with the dialects of Southern culture.  He uses them to not only show difference in class/education, but also difference in culture.  He purposely gives some characters written dialects and does not to others.

It is clever that he does this.  Not only is the language documented, but it can help linguists to see the transitions and progressions in the English language in the south.  Granted, Twain writes his version of what it is he is hearing so it is a biased historical representation.  However, Twain was not the only author documenting language-refer back to the Uncle Remus stories to see another author’s opinion.  Also take note that both are representations from different regions.

The only downside to these types of texts is how to translate a dialect into another language so other cultures can read the works.  Since English was the dominant language, these authors must not have been to worried about that factor.

This website discusses a bit more of how Twain uses dialect:


Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the importance of fingerprints. Since Wilson has the towns fingerprints on file, but doesn’t always refer back to them, it seems as if fingerprints weren’t as important as they are today.
As we discussed in class, every person has a different set of fingerprints. Their absolutely unique to its owner. So I did some research and found that two centuries ago, the fingerprint was not so important, because it was only discovered in the late 19th century that all fingerprints are different from one another. In 1880, an English scientist named Henry Faulds stated that the fingerprints of people did not change throughout their lives, and that suspects could be convicted by the fingerprints they left on surfaces, such as glass. In 1884, for the first time, a murder was solved by means of identifying fingerprints. Since then, fingerprints have become an important method of identification. Before the 19th century, however, people most likely had never thought that the wavy shapes on their fingertips had any meaning or considered them of importance.

“The Five Fists of Science,” or how Mark Twain continues to kick butt.

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The Five Fists of Science is a graphic novel which depicts Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla as moral leaders for the cause of world peace.  In it, they fight against the terrible hordes of no-gooders, portrayed as J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and the worst of them all, Thomas Edison.  (You can of course see the problem with Thomas Edison, that he is a stalker and watches Mark Twain and his family: Twain in 1909, Creeped on by Edison)I absolutely love when pop culture takes historical figures and grows upon their legend.  This graphic novel completely does that.  The two use science and trickery to try and further their lessons to villains.  So, Tesla and Twain, already larger than life characters, grow into an even higher god-like status as their work and contributions are exaggerated further.  As a master of science and a master of wit, Tesla and Twain confront the storm of evil industry in the ways they know best.

As I noted, it’s always so interesting when pop culture takes over a figure and exaggerates upon their legend.  We will never see the bad side of these people; only the side that makes us say, “Hey! That’s so freaking awesome!”  This has probably gone on for as long as anyone can tell.  If you think about it, there are plenty of stories and tales about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, anyone who was influential and dead.  These tales of course aren’t true, but further the ideas of these people.  Their legend becomes greater than actually they were in life.  There is a sort of mythology that is generated from important figures.  I find it fascinating and entertaining.  A clear example of this is all of the videos you can find on youtube about a certain person or figure.  My favorite type of legend growth occurs in cartoons and comic books.

Anyways, I’ll leave you with pictures from The Five Fists of Science and then links to go about checking it out for yourself, if you are so inclined to do so.

The Five Fists of Science:

Software to view the Five Fists:

The Term ‘Puddin’head’

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

The nickname Puddin’head is a great one, that much is sure. Call anyone a puddin’head and it is immediately clear exactly what you mean. I looked into the history of the phrase, with help from the OED.

It was first used in 1727 satirical pamphlet called “A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling” by an anonymous writer in London. The phrase is “O wou’d to Heav’n this little Attempt of Mine may stir up some Pudding-headed Antiquary to dig his Way through all the mouldy Records of Antiquity, and bring to Light the Noble Actions of Sir John!” I have no idea what this means, but the author uses culinary verbiage to satirize some specific politicians.

The entire pamphlet can be found here:

Herman Melville and Charles Dickens also use the phrase before Twain did. Melvill, in Ch. 108 of “Moby Dick” has a carpetner yelling at his worker, “Look ye, pudding-heads should never grant premises.- How long before the leg is done?” and in one of his letter, Dickens wrote “Surely it is time that the pudding-headed Dolby retired into the native gloom from which he has emerged.”

All of these other authors used the term in a similar fashion. Satire, comedy and ridicule all rolled in to one great nickname.

Palmistry in Mark Twain

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

After struggling to get through the dialogue of the Mark Twain reading for Tuesday I wanted to Google a little bit more about palm reading. I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve always found it somewhat fascinating. And I was intrigued that Mark Twain decided to include the ancient art as one of Wilson’s talents…

I came across a website on Google and I’m not sure how reliable it is, but it explains the art of palm reading and what the different lines of the hand mean and so on. Then I got to the end of the information and read that Cheiro, in infamous astrologist and palm reader who lived in 1866-1936, accurately predicted events that were to happen to several famous personalities like Prince Edward, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Marilyn Monroe. And apparently Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime was based off his experience with Cheiro.

I would have thought authors like Twain and Wilde were too cynical for something as unreliable as palm reading, but if both authors were impressed enough to include it in their novels, maybe I should go out and give it a try…

Here’s the link: Palmistry

A side note on Harriet Jacobs’ editor

Friday, September 24th, 2010

In class this week, we briefly talked about Harriet Jacobs’ circle of contacts once she was in New England and the fact that almost all of them were women. I thought at the time that any one of these women would be worth finding out more about, as they were writing, publishing, and being activists and community leaders at a time when women generally did not participate in the working world. So I thought I would write a bit about Lydia Maria Child, the original editor of Jacobs’ narrative and the woman who wrote the second introductory piece for the book. In finding out more about Child’s life, it was interesting to see that her involvement with Jacobs’ book is almost a footnote to her own life and her other accomplishments are many.

Child, as we know, lived in Boston and was an activist in the abolitionist movement there. She also was opposed to American expansionist policies and an outspoken voice for Native American (then Indian) rights and women’s rights. She began her activism surrounding women’s rights, but took to advocating for abolition as she believed that nothing would be done about women’s rights until slavery was abolished. According to that great, online resource Wikipedia:

“In 1833 her book An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans was published. It argued in favor of the immediate emancipation of the slaves without compensation to slaveholders, and she is sometimes said to have been the first white person to have written a book in support of this policy.”

Child also wrote a novel which was quite scandalous at the time, entitled Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times, which depicted the romance between a white woman and a Native American man. Interestingly, Child published her book anonymously, using only the term “an American” to identify its author. This effort aside, she was a successful writer, publishing many books and pamphlets about race, gender and American domestic life. Her pamphlets and speeches on behalf of Native Americans were integral to the beginnings of somewhat more favorable government policies in Indian affairs.

Because of Child’s dual interests in women’s rights and the rights of African and Native Americans, she “dealt with issues of both male dominance and white supremacy in some of her stories.”

One minor aside about Jacobs as well: Child’s family– her father and her five siblings– lived in Medford , MA. Her father was a baker who was apparently quite famous for his “Medford Crackers.” Seems crackers were quite the thing to bake in both the North and the South, as we read that Jacobs’ grandmother had a good reputation for the ones she made as well.

I realize this is all a diversion from the Jacobs story, and I don’t mean to take anything away from the important discussion of direct accounts of America’s slave history, but I was curious about the intelligent and courageous women who offered Jacobs assistance in the editing and publication of her book.

If you would like to read more, here are a couple of “lite sites”: and

Our Trajectory thus far…

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Poe, Douglass, Jacobs, and soon, Twain.

Thus far, I haven’t really seen anything that grossly draws us back to that board we wrote at the beginning of the course. I feel that we have explored slavery from a variety of facets, but in terms of the south that we know as rural, nationalists, individualists, what have we gathered. perhaps pudd’n head has something worthwhile, and Richards did say he is trying to break down our stereotypical notions of the south.

This makes me think of a larger point, that the south is only a construction, that the south, as reflected by our readings this far, is not the stable identity that we refer to and employ in everyday conversation. Moreover, the south is constructed by another entity, probably the north.

We get images of southern construction, but maybe a stronger inquiry towards to the north is warranted. Race studies often target whiteness as a cite where inequalities and identities are produced. why should the north be any different.

furthermore, it might be worthwhile to explore the reasons why the north constructs the south as such. (further texts may offer this). My reasoning for this models the work of said’s orientalism, where the desires of the west went into the construction of the east. My guess is that the desires of the north may have had something to do with the construction of the south, and that this may have implicated things like slavery or ruralism in the south.