The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

mark twain delphiClothes maketh the boy….

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When poor Tom Canty realises his cherished ambition to meet a real Prince, both are astonished to find they are identical. Swapping clothes for a joke, the young Prince is mistaken for the pauper Tom and ejected from the palace. Meantime, Tom tries to tell the palace people about the mistake, but they think he’s gone mad and won’t believe him. Prince Edward’s loving father (!), Henry VIII, orders Tom to act the Prince until his madness recedes and, as a loyal subject, Tom must obey. So begins a series of adventures for both boys as they learn about each other’s lives.

“One summer’s day he saw poor Anne Askew and three men burned at the stake in Smithfield, and heard an ex-Bishop preach a sermon to them which did not interest him. Yes, Tom’s life was varied and pleasant enough, on the whole.”

Once I had recovered from the shock of seeing Henry and his children all getting along like The Waltons on a good day (except that awful Bloody Mary, of course – Boo! Hiss!), I enjoyed this fable. A mixture of ‘clothes maketh the man’ and ‘the grass is always greener’, Twain uses his set-up to show the social divisions and injustices of Tudor society. Tom finds the affairs of state and trappings of ceremony weigh heavily on him, and sometimes wishes for the freedom of his old life. Edward meantime learns how the poor sink into criminality and vice and sees the cruelty of the punishments they are subjected to. Tom’s story is fairly light-hearted, but Edward has to face some dark and dangerous moments in this world that is so different from anything he has known before.

“The old man glided away, stooping, stealthy, cat-like, and brought the low bench. He seated himself upon it, half his body in the dim and flickering light, and the other half in shadow; and so, with his craving eyes bent upon the slumbering boy, he kept his patient vigil there, heedless of the drift of time, and softly whetted his knife, and mumbled and chuckled…”

Given the fairy-tale nature of the book, Twain manages to get in a lot of real history, though warped where necessary to meet his purposes, and paints what feels like a fairly accurate picture of life at the time, especially for the poor. He occasionally goes over the top in his descriptions of court ceremony but this is for deliberate comic effect – one gets the distinct feeling that Twain may not have been a huge fan of monarchy! He avoids mawkishness by not letting either boy be too perfect. Edward remains arrogant throughout – though he sees how unjust life is for some of his future subjects and resolves to do better by them, he also promises vicious revenge on those who have hurt him along the way. Tom, on the other hand, fairly soon begins to enjoy life as a pampered and cosseted Prince and for a while forgets his poor mother and sisters and what they may be suffering.


The quality of the writing is, of course, excellent and Twain handles his version of Ye Olde English language smoothly and effectively. While Twain is making some serious points, there are plenty of adventures along the way to keep the reader entertained and to avoid the book feeling preachy. Overall, a very enjoyable read and as an added bonus I’ve been left with an image I will treasure and continue to chuckle over, of Henry as the loving family man.

As a little aside, I read this as part of the Delphi Complete Works version. If any Kindler hasn’t come across Delphi, I highly recommend them. As well as all of the authors’ writings, they usually include extras such as biographies, criticisms and lavish illustrations, including the original ones where they exist. Usually very well-formatted and with few mistakes, they have become my go-to e-publisher for the classics.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

88 thoughts on “The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

  1. The review is stellar. You handled Mr. Twain excellently! But no moustaches…

    Well, we must conclude that Henry was a loving family man–because Twain said it–and that his wives were very wicked.

    Twain loves to rip, doesn’t he?

    Are you ready for your next Twain book? 😉


  2. Glad you enjoyed this. If you can’t fit in another Twain novel, may I suggest the Puddenhead Wilson series of short detective stories?


  3. I have always loved Twain’s ability to make biting and sometimes very funny social commentary while at the same time telling a good story. And this is no different. So glad you liked it as much as you did. 🙂


  4. Twain is one of those writers whose works I feel I know without ever having read a word. I rather like the idea of the Puddenhead Wilson series, so perhaps I might start there.


  5. I am so un-American. I have never read Twain. I have, however, seen Hal Holbrook perform as Mark Twain. Does that count? I think I need to do some catching up. But now that I think about it, I have read the story about the Calaveras frog and his essay, Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism. Opposite ends of the spectrum, eh?


    • I’m equally impressed by both having heard of neither! 😉

      My profound ignorance of American literature was brought home to me recently when an American reviewer asked what books I would shortlist as the Great American Novel and I couldn’t think of anything written after about 1930…


        • Well, we decided it should say something profound about modern-day America – probably, but not essentially, written by an American. But sadly, that was about as far as we got! I was touting Fallen Land (as I always do), Roth got mentioned and then…silence fell but for the sound of the wind blowing softly through empty heads…


          • 😮

            Do you follow 101 Books, the blog that’s reviewing Time Magazine’s top 100 novels since 1923? He’s going to end with Ulysses even though it’s not on the list. That’s the 101st. 😮

            The list is not exclusively American writers or novels about the U.S., but it does contain some of the ones considered “classics.”

            Love the thought of that wind blowing. What a fabulous image!


            • Oh, I’ll take a look at that – the good thing is there’s no chance of me ever reaching 100 – so no chance I’ll ever have to read Ulysses 😉


    • Aha! It took me a few moments, but I got there in the end… 😉

      They really are good, though, and cheap. I know you can get most of the classics free but it’s worth a couple of quid for the formatting and extras.


        • Burial Rites? I haven’t read very much yet, but I’m liking it a lot – good writing style and so far an interesting plot. Did you get it via Vine?

          Sorry if there’s a delay in me replying – for some reason some of my comments are ending up in spam at the moment, and you seem to be one of the people it’s picking on! I’ve heard other people have been having the same problem, but supposedly it’s resolved – hmm!


          • NetGalley! PS I have changed my mind about the NG I recommended to you recently – it will edge to 3 star only and therefore not make the blog. Damned with faint praise for predictable, and some plot stuff which is not credible, though the psychological angle is interesting How To Be A Good Wife


            • Oh, I’d forgotten it was on NG too. I decide to go for the paper copy for a change – especially since Vine was offering nothing else that appealed.

              Yep, I’m afraid big names (Mantel) saying something is wonderful means less and less – it doesn’t do much for their credibility though does it?


            • Its a shame – I know in the end much is subjective, but when good writers praise poor writers for the quality of their poor writing you can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just a cosy nest of back scratching friends afraid of being damned if they say something critical. Vested interests.

              I will never ask you to review my (unwritten, no plans to write it) book – not without a totally made up name so you have no idea its me – yes, you guessed right, I’m really Patrick Flanery, thankyou for those lovely LOVELY reviews


            • It’s OK, Ms Flanery – I’m pretty sure they don’t actually read the books they all claim are ‘Superbly written masterpieces’ – well, let’s be honest, if they did, they couldn’t say these things with a straight face. So, in return for a copious amount of chocs, I’ll happily praise your unwritten opus to the skies!

              PS Your comment didn’t go to spam this time – so maybe the blip is over.


            • Perhaps anything containing the word chocolate gets through, and posts which don’t mention choco are set by smart filters on your account as spam. No doubt my smart filters are set to recognise whimsy and faerie and fey as okay!


  6. Remarkable how well you’ve rendered this jewel from Twain’s crown. Bravo!

    On related threads, my two cents from north of the Golden Gate:

    Huck Finn is the Great American Novel. There will never be another to surpass it. Gatsby came close to being its equal. The best post-1930’s GAN is Yates’s Revolutionary Road or Ford’s The Lay of the Land.

    My personal favorite from Twain, for the political satire and the belly laughs, is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

    Now I have to go find my Prince and the Pauper volume. It’s been many, many years.


    • Thanks for the lovely compliment!

      Huck Finn better than Gatsby? I think I may have read Huck Finn too young to really appreciate it properly, so will put it down for a re-read – but it’ll have to be amazing to top Gatsby! The first time I read it I was literally breathless. I read it in one session – impossible to do anything else – and I still remember the sensations, emotional and physical. I must have re-read it a dozen times since then and would rate it as highly as anything I’ve ever read. That and To Kill a Mockingbird are probably the two greatest American novels in my very limited experience.

      I’m going to make a real effort to increase my knowledge of American lit this year, so thanks for those recs – I’ll add both to the list. A couple of things to read first (including Toibin) then I have Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue – I think Chabon’s name has come up as a contender for modern great American novelist, though I don’t think this was the novel in question. This will be my first experience of him.


  7. The Chabon everyone raves about is The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. I couldn’t get into it. The only Chabon I’ve read is a book of short stories, and when in one of them a full moon came up in the middle of the afternoon, I put it down. I guess that makes me a hopeless realist, come to think of it.

    I read Gatsby every chance I get, and am delighted to hear that you see and feel it the same way. Just an amazing book. Don’t sleep on Tender is the Night; not as good, but one can’t hold a book to that standard.

    Huck Finn is just a towering work. You probably won’t be able to find a copy of it with the original illustrations (University of California Press did one about 25 years ago), which were by a celebrated political cartoonist of the time, and is the one I like the most. (Most have Norman Rockwell-like illustrations that are diametrically opposed to what Twain had in mind and insisted on). The book is biting political satire, taking on not just America’s form but any form of racism or prejudice, wrapped in laugh-out-loud comedy that’s timeless even today, all of this in a coming-of-age story for the ages. It’s amazing it was written in the 19th Century, and it’s exactly what we (who write fiction) should all be shooting for. And I’d say the same thing of Gatsby.

    Lastly, the one thing about Twain and Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Ford and Russo (Empire Falls) is when you pick up one of their novels, and read the first page, it’s there again — that voice you’ve read in the other novels. And you can’t wait to listen to it again, telling another story. They’re not all as good as their best, but they’re nearly all worth reading.



    • What a great reminder about a writer with a particular voice. I’m with FF re Gatsby and also Mockingbird. Catcher in the Rye, anyone? Re-reads all now being requested. However (blushes an unbecoming shade of peony) I have never read Huck Finn. One to add to the clearly living pile of books to be read – SURELY they are alive, isn’t growth one of the signs for ‘is it living?’

      I love FF’s image of being breathless reading Gatsby – the sheer POWER of writing!!!!!


      • Never read Catcher and somehow can’t bring myself to. I actually have a real problem with lit fic written from roughly post-war right through to the 80s – it was as if they felt they had discovered humanity, and particularly sex, – so much of it is written as if it is profound when actually it’s pretty superficial, and often badly-written. I realise that’s a ridiculous generalisation and expect to be walloped by people defending their much-loved favourites (and I could probably dredge up a few of my own if I really thought about it), but for me I’m most comfortable with classics and pre-war, and then jumping to the last couple of decades when it seems to me authors have reconnected with the literary tradition.

        That’s one of the reasons I’m always saying ‘haven’t read it’ – for decades I really ignored most lit-fic except the old stuff. I feel much the same about films of the 60s through to the 80s – yoof culture took over and threw the baby out with the bathwater.


    • After Gatsby, I read all of Fitzgerald but although I liked and admired most of it, nothing had the same impact as Gatsby – Tender is the Night being the best of the rest, so to speak. But unlike Gatsby, I’ve never felt a huge urge to re-read the rest.

      Well, amongst you all, you’ve ensured Huck Finn will have to get to queue-jump! If only it was possible to read everything I’d like to – we’re lucky to live in an age where all the riches of past literature are available along with the masses of great stuff that comes out every year, but oh! it always means that for every book that gets read, there’s another hundred that don’t…

      I’ll add Ford and Russo to my American challenge list, and Hemingway if I must – I’ve got an irrational dislike of Hemingway based purely on his literary reputation which has prevented me from attempting to read him.


        • 😆 Surely you must like some books other than Twain! I’d have thought you’d have been pleased to see all this glowing praise for Huck Finn and to see that it’s been shoved up my priority list as a result…

          But don’t you be disrespectful towards Jay Gatsby now. He’s nearly as dear to me as my beloved Darby.


          • No, I do love Huck. The only problem is that everyone praises Sawyer and Huck–alone! Twain’s genius, though, is found mainly, in this professor’s opinion, in his nonfiction works! Ah! The Innocents Abroad has more reason to be the greatest American novel than Huck. Never has the patriotic zeal been stronger, I believe, in a book!

            Oh dear, see what happens when the professor gets started?

            I can’t let on that I like other books, for then Twain’s standard would be dropped. But I do. There are some great books out there that aren’t Twain’s. 😉

            Gatsby? You’ve got to be kidding. I think a ripio is needed here. Really I do.


            • Go on! You can tell me what other books you like – I won’t tell anyone. Whisper!

              Well, I may read The Innocents Abroad at some point but I’m bogged down with factual and surfeited with crime at present and longing for good fiction. So it’ll have to join the queue (87).

              Don’t you dare rip Gatsby!! You really don’t want to provoke my Glaswegian side… 😉


            • I really like A Princess of Mars, despite the fact that I ripioed it…

              I don’t think you’d like The Innocents Abroad… 😆

              Gatsby might be up for it. I think I’m tired of him by just a bit!

              (By the way, just wondering, are you a Celtic or Rangers fan?)


            • Why wouldn’t I? Is he rude about Scotland, perchance??

              Neither – fortunately I find football a silly, silly game, which in Glasgow is a true blessing!

              A Princess of Mars looks quite fun. Yet another book I’ve never read…


            • He rips non-Americans. 😀

              Football or soccer? Must be clear, you know. Over here, football is all about a pig’s skin…

              I enjoyed it immensely. But I ripped it. I think I’m doomed to rip all the books that I’ve ever read–enjoyed or not!


            • I’m quite clear – I can’t help it if Americans are terminally confused. 😉

              Since we love your rips, that’s OK, but I’m pleased to hear that at least you enjoy some of them before you rip them.


            • Why must I? That’s like saying someone who doesn’t like chocolate must have a favourite chocolate bar.

              Read The Hound of the Baskervilles and see if that doesn’t change your opinion of Sir Arthur…


            • Favourite…we really must work on your spelling! (My spell-checker objected to ‘colour’ earlier today – have you bribed it?)

              Well, if you read it and don’t rip it, I hope you’ll still tell me what you think of it. 🙂


            • 😆 That’s funny! Listen to your spell-check, it’s showing you the right way to spell things!

              Well, I might do a flattering review. I have been known to review sweetly before. But, regardless, I’ll definitely let you know! I’m happy that Watson gets a bigger part; he’s always been the professor’s favorite!

              (Currently, I’m in the process of watching Death On The Nile. Ah! The best ever!)


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