The deconstruction of self and state in The Prince and the Pauper.
Twain's critics have sought to infer from The Prince and the Pauper Twain's views of adolescent development, English political institutions, the traits of the ideal monarch, and so forth. (1) However, these attributions assume that the novel's pompous, incompetent narrator is to be identified with Samuel Clemens as the originator of such views. This hermeneutic tendency can obscure the way The Prince and the Pauper may expose it as illusory, by allegorizing a split in selfhood--like the one between Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain--that makes determination of true authors impossible. (2) Twain's works were not unusual among those of other nineteenth-century writers in allegorizing unrecoverable identity; in one way or another that theme animates books by Thomas Carlyle, Soren Kierkegaard, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and others. (3) In Twain's case, unfounded selfhood is often linked to an analogous illegitimacy in the state, to the public fiction that arrogates to itself the power to define selves, whether as subjects or citizens. Deconstructive approaches that describe these allegories can provide an alternative to hermeneutics for respecting the fiction and enigma of Twain. (4) They can be helpful in accounting for the novel's front-matter, its peripeteia, its narrator's idiosyncrasies, and its odd, concluding "General Note on the Blue Laws." Finally, they can suggest how the text's social and political themes may be less easy to determine than has been so far been the case in hermeneutic criticism.
Relation to Earlier Works
Twain's works can be read as linking the inauthenticity of self and state from the beginning. The Innocents Abroad (1869) depicted the impossibility of a touristic self escaping national prejudices. A Burlesque Autobiography (1871) narrated arbitrariness in self and state: Clemens depicted Twain as the offspring of a wholly imaginary geneology including a scholar who was a forger and an admiral who was a pirate. Roughing It (1872) exploited puns on "mining" and "claims" to align imperialist expansion with the narrative construction of a self. Complementary manifestations of violence in the state and the adolescent self shaped the plot of Tom Sawyer (1876). A Tramp Abroad (1880) scrutinized Europe for cultural signs of this modern American aggression, discovering them immediately in the Heidelberg Five Corps, German student organizations whose members dueled with each other on behalf of colors. These fraternal societies attested to the thriving of medieval delusion in the contemporary world; they contextualized the depiction of its Anglo-American apotheosis in the novels of Scott or in Tom Sawyer's attack on Alfred Temple because of his clothes. A Tramp Abroad traced European insanity back to seeming Ur-sources like Rhine legends; its modern counterpart appeared in the Swiss adulation of such "heroes" as Alpine climbers, surrogates for Twain, who undertook irrational expeditions that jeopardized themselves and others. In these books the Twain who satirizes spectacles of human folly is not the same as the historical Samuel Clemens; on the contrary, he is just as much an artifice or orphan, just as irrevocably cut off from the real, as any of the benighted figures he describes.
In The Prince and the Pauper Twain's two main themes, the fraudulence of self and state, become joined: the arbitrary nature of both is allegorized in the search for the right "mark" that might establish them as valid or true. This mark turns out to be the Great Seal of England, whose recovery becomes the peripeteia of the novel; its arbitrariness is revealed when Tom Canty explains he couldn't find it because he thought it was a nut-cracker. The events leading up to its discovery reveal the suffering caused by humans' blind belief in the validity of its referents, self and state. Like Tom Sawyer this novel is supposedly aimed at children; if so, perhaps its hope is that if children read it properly, they might question these two founding illusions of western civilization and thereby begin to eliminate the human misery the novel depicts them as having caused.
"The Prince" is a kind of generic phrase that implies but does not specify a singularity: at any given time there can be many princes but only one inheritor of the throne. (And as the long-awaited male heir of Henry VIII, whose existence precipitated the English Reformation, Edward Tudor might be regarded by historians as the prince.) But because the supposed uniqueness of the referent is not natural but derived from conventions of hereditary monarchy, the word's validity depends on the monarchy's; the illegitimacy of England's was demonstrated during the Interregnum, an event the novel anticipates in the name of the recipient (Lord Cromwell) of the celebratory letter included in the front matter. Thus the title begins with a proper noun "Prince" which is not really a proper noun after all, hinting how the idea of a "proper" referent dissolves under scrutiny. By equating proper and common nouns in the title, the novel further questions the grammatical distinction. In Chapter 17, the Edward Tudor has fallen in with a gang of thieves who give him the mocking title "Foo-foo the First." (5) Just as in A Tramp Abroad, where the agent Harris's report about the Lucerne area is punctuated with nonsense words, so, here, the word "foo-foo" demonstrates the arbitrariness of all naming by showing that since any sign can be used to designate what is considered a unique referent, there can be no "proper" word for anything. Beyond the egalitarianism of saying princes and paupers are morally the same lies the novel's disclosure that illusions of identity are generated by misleading conventions of grammar.
The phrase "A tale for young people of all ages" is an example of a paradox conventionally resolved by saying that "young" refers not to chronological age but to a state of mind--the novel is for any reader young at heart. Read this way, the subtitle asks readers to shed adult preconceptions, including perhaps the conventions of language and referentiality, as is also encouraged by childish titles like "Foo-foo the first." Much of the novel's meaning is conveyed through its puns--not only expected plays on "cant/ Canty" and "mark" but also the homology drawn between "offal" and the different meanings of "awful." (6) to language as sound and to multivalent meaning may exemplify the trait of being "young" in the subtitle's sense.
Such multivalence can also render the subtitle as "young people of all [historical] ages." (7) This sense is supported when Miles explains how the hatred and envy aroused by his older brother Hugh was "in all ages sufficient to win a parent's dearest love" (94). His usage encompasses both senses of the word "age," but its historical application seems primary, especially in the light of Biblical stories narrating primogeniture or sibling rivalry. The historical sense of the subtitle implies that whatever truth we learn from The Prince and the Pauper may be universal--true for all historical ages. Toward the end of Twain's career the universalism of his secular Calvinism registers in phrases like "damned human race" and implies--in the manner of Voltaire, the French Encyclopaediasts, or contemporary deconstruction--a human condition likely to be incorrigible.
Genre: Tall Tale as Link in the Logic of Twain's Career
This short novel is a long tall tale: a prince and a pauper who physically resemble each other exchange identities through a very unlikely coincidence. Like "First Romance," "The Knave of Bergen" or other Rhine legends, the story is set in the European Middle Ages that are Twain's locus classicus for the intersection of western chivalry, violent appropriation of the other, and the pursuit of arbitrary signs. A Tramp Abroad examines these cultural antecedents in medieval Germany, The Prince and the Pauper in proto-Reformation England. Over the course of Twain's career there is first a movement backwards toward world-origins (in the pilgrimage to the Near East and Adam's tomb), then gradually forward, through western history, toward the American present. This trajectory will be brought further up to date in Twain's next work, Life on the Mississippi, which traces the movement of universal delusion from the Enlightenment and the "discovery" of America to riverboat con-artists like himself. From this perspective the sequence of Twain's works has an unassailable logic. The fact that Twain inserts a tall tale as a crucial link in this otherwise journalistic chain conflates history and legend; the unpaginated front matter to the tall tale illustrates that conflation in several new contexts.
Like all of Clemens's dedications, this one reinforces the artificiality of Twain, the invented narrator but is particularly important as a message of transmittal from father to daughter; as such, it deconstructs the bias toward patrilinealism and primogeniture built into the English monarchy and the cultural institutions that flowed from it. (As Twain's preface will make clear, a male bias has always been part of the transmission of stories.) As a pointed contrast to the weighty tradition of male primogeniture, and as a break in his preface's chain of male transmission, Twain's dedication functions as a micro-deconstruction: it separates "the transmission of letters" from whatever it is of importance--selves, genders, states, history--signs are supposed to signify.
Twain's scandalous 1601, written a year before The Prince and the Pauper, had decanonized literature, including Shakespeare. The epigraph for The Prince and the Pauper continues this subversion in its quotation from The Merchant of Venice, in which two and a half lines are omitted; they are restored below in brackets:
The quality of mercy [is not strained It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath; it] is twice bless'd; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes; 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown.
Portia's famous speech crystallizes the main conflict in Shakespeare's play, between the law and mercy, by opposing the crown to something literally and figuratively higher--mercy as imagined to come "from heaven." The lines are part of her plea that Antonio, the man she loves, be released from his deathly contract with Shylock, an event she herself will help bring about. The lines Twain suppresses describe a free or unconditioned mercy, which is "not strained"; thus the opposition between Portia's Christianity and Shylock's Judaism, fundamental to the play, is elided; Twain's edited quote pointedly asks readers to consider the relation between mercy and sovereignty in wholly secular terms. One implication may be that in the secular, republican world of Enlightenment America, no alternative to state power is possible. But the action of the novel raises an even deeper contradiction. Tom Canty's first act as king is to proclaim that "the king's law [shall] be the law of mercy from this day" (83). But his own pardons, narrated immediately afterward, are motivated by reason, not religion: he frees a condemned man after realizing he can personally attest to his alibi (129); he releases an accused witch after convincing himself she lacks the supernatural powers of which she stands accused (133). In both cases Tom's cleverness enables him to elicit what he considers exculpatory testimony; however, neither case demonstrates the religiously sanctioned, unconditional mercy called for in the suppressed lines of Portia's speech. Meanwhile, readers of The Prince and the Pauper have learned of persistent, egregious injustice perpetrated by the legitimate political system in England) novel and alteration of Shakespeare have a teaching function: they suggest that even Portia lacked the unconditional mercy she seems to advocate in her speech: her case for Antonio is self-interested and, as in Tom's cases, mercy comes not from God but from human intellect and rhetoric. So in the end, Twain's excision from Portia's lines may correct Shakespeare by implying that his appeal to some transcendental mercy, that "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven," is a myth. (9)
Twain claims to have "set down a tale as it was told to me by one who had it of his father, which latter had it of his father ... going back 300 years, the fathers transmitting it to the sons and so preserving it." Like Twain's other front matter, the preface exemplifies Schlegel's parabasis--that is, a statement that apparently comes from the "true author," which is meant to reinforce credibility but instead winds up weakening it. (10) Twain's preface makes a faux-appeal for his story's legitimacy because of its uninterrupted and presumably faithful transmission; however, obvious questions arise. First, even though the appeal seems grounded on unbroken patrilineal transmission, Twain never says he received it from his own father but only from "one"--a teller--"who had it from his father." The neuter pronoun forces readers to consider the extent to which language can "naturally" represent gender. Second, the preface blurs history, legend, and tradition. The last four sentences, beginning with "It may be," make no actual claims for the story; all that is affirmed is that writing is speculation. (11)
Third, the emphasis on unbroken patrilineal transmission of the story forms an obvious parallel with its political theme--the specious rationale of male primogeniture in founding state legitimacy, exposed in Henry VIII's role as instigator of the English Reformation. The parallel between the insertion of a fictionalized version of Edward VI's place into the English monarchy and the potentially "illegitimate succession of stories"--the males are interrupted by "one"--reveals the groundlessness of both literature and the state. By admitting its artifice, as in this front matter, literature is just more honest than the state. Finally, this part of the preface may also satirize the idea of "apostolic succession"--the doctrine that the truth of religious stories, including the Bible and its institutional interpretation, is more valid because they have supposedly been passed down unchanged from one "father"--disciple or pope--to another. From this perspective, the tall tale that continues the logic of Twain's career deconstructs the claims of English history and institutional Christianity. And of course, since it is a tall tale, The Prince and the Pauper simultaneously undermines the logic of Twain's career.
Facsimile Letter from Hugh Latimer to Lord Cromwell on the Occasion of the Birth of Edward Prince of Wales
This is a letter of rejoicing from an English Bishop who announces the birth of the Prince of Wales and attributes it to God's "Grace"--another claim of a religious sanction for political legitimacy. Several aspects of the letter are worth commenting on.
First, it is presented in both holograph and printed versions. Twain's reproduction of handwriting continues the examples of it already seen in Roughing It, Tom Sawyer, and A Tramp Abroad. Here the question of authenticity arises in connection with documents and documentation. How can one know a true signature? This is the problem Derrida addresses in the essay, "Signature Event Context": if intelligibility depends on iteration, there can be no necessary connection between any sign and any particular self; if all signatures are forgeable, none is valid. The novel connects this insight with the legitimacy of primogeniture when it tells of the treachery of Hugh Hendon, youngest of three sons of Sir Richard, in usurping his father's title by forging a letter notifying him that Miles was dead (231). If the arbitrary nature of signatures means that identity will be a fictional construct, then a letter from Lattimer to Cromwell attesting to God's grace attests to nothing.
The fact that this letter was sent from a Bishop to a Lord Cromwell further implies the way de-legitimacy is inherent in claims of legitimacy. As a matter of Reformation history it can easily be seen that Cromwell and regicide were inherent in Henry's assertion of independence from the Church, when Henry's need to find a male heir exposed the arbitrariness of church power. In his book Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841), Carlyle had argued that Napoleanism in the political sphere was implicit in Lutheran piety (203). In other words, the Bishop's letter can be seen to exemplify the eventual de-legitimation of what it celebrates. So like the preface, it functions as another parabasis. The fact that this deconstruction of authenticity is contained in a letter may be understood as a parable of the potential harbored in every alphabetic mark to perform a similar undoing of what it names.
The Plot Premise: Unrecoverable Identity
Tom Canty is the pauper who lives in "Offal Court," in the London of the 1530s. (The pun on "aweful," reserved for religious and state institutions of the highest dignity, manifests the same extreme inversion of high and low Twain introduced in 1601, written in the preceding year.) Tom's desire to read old tales and legends led him to be tutored and learn the King's English from a kindly priest, Father Andrew. (The sympathetic nature of this character, introduced at the outset, may remove from "Twain" any taint of anti-Catholicism.) Like his namesake Tom Sawyer, Tom Canty partly lives in an imaginary world; hence his identity, from the outset, is divided, not unitary: after Tom pushes against the palace gates to fulfill his fantasy-life and see the Prince, his ejection by a guard is overruled by the curious Edward, who intervenes to invite him in. So the boys are brought together by their divided identities. The prince's rich fantasy life is evident when Tom describes the games and pastimes of the poor, and Edward yearns to experience them. After the two soon perceive their physical resemblance and exchange clothes, the Prince is mistakenly stranded outside his palace gates and taken for the pauper. Despite his protests, there is now no way he can "prove his identity." (In Twain's works, this is the condition of all human beings, not just the Prince, who are imagined to be "abroad" in the existential sense of "outside" and "outside themselves.")
Whatever else the novel portends, its premise repeats a questioning of the reliability of self and other, arising at the outset of a narrative, seen often in Twain's writings: in the mythical Leonides Smiley of "Jumping Frog"; in the fictional interlocutor Mr. Brown; in Mark Twain "the innocent" or the "mining claimant"; in "Colonel" Sellers; in the interpellated "Tom!" Sawyer. These and so many surrogates for Twain enact the problem articulated by Kierkegaard, de Man, and Derrida: once a name is posited, it loses all connection to a real self. "Orphaned" this way, identity will remain a linguistic construct: "Mark Twain" will always expose the fiction of "Samuel Clemens." The exchange of roles between Tom and Edward choreographs their prior status as fractured, permanently un-unifiable selves. The novel's premise then creates its suspense: how can the two characters ever establish "rightful" identities? Twain's answer is that such a goal is an oxymoron, exposed by the absurdity of his climax, the rediscovery of England's Great Seal that is also a nutcracker. (In Pudd'nhead Wilson this exposing function will be updated and transferred to the discovery of fingerprints, the Enlightenment equivalent of the Great Seal as supposed guarantor of the authenticity of self and state.)
Twain, The Narrator
The narrative voice of The Prince and the Pauper appears to be generally the same as the "omniscient" Twain of Tom Sawyer or The Gilded Age; nevertheless like the parabases of the front matter, Twain exhibits many traits that reveal him to be a fictional construct, after all.
Like the narrative voice of The Gilded Age (but without the rationale of joint authorship), this Twain conspicuously indulges in the conventional authorial "we," sometimes accompanied by the even more affected "ourselves" (263); his second chapter opens with "Let us skip a number of years" (3). One passage is introduced by the anastrophe "Return we within the Guidhall" (81); another concludes with "But we digress" (88); towards the end Twain intrudes with, "Let us change the tense for convenience" (265). These stilted artificialities not only mock contemporary Victorian conventions of omniscience; they also align the narrator with the sovereign, who employs the "royal 'we"" for reasons of extreme urgency: the doctrine of "the king's two bodies" reflects the religious rationale for monarchy. (12) Edward follows this usage conspicuously in one of his first official acts (199) and even Tom Canty becomes acclimated enough to his royal status to use it (114). (The fact that anyone can use the royal we is simply another deconstruction of the belief in "proper" referents of language.) The identification of the narrator with the sovereign's figure for the self impugns writers as making, of necessity, the same pompous claims to sovereignty that monarchs do.
There is another sense in which the narration of The Prince and the Pauper is plural. Twain refers throughout to non-fiction source materials. These books include Hume's History of England, Dr. J. Hammond Trumbull's Blue Laws, True and False, Leigh Hunt's The Town and Timbs's Curiosities of London, among others. (13) Thus the narrator's pronoun "we" can be read as an acknowledgement of these "prior guides," as they are called in Twain's travel writings--writers whose work invalidates in advance hermeneutic longings for atextual worlds and unitary "authorship." In The Prince and the Pauper it is the claims of historians, not of Baedeckers, that will be discredited. (The addition of textual notes to accompany a work of fiction is often taken as such a specifically modernist gesture of intertextuality, most famously in Eliot's The Waste Land; however, here as elsewhere Twain's practices call such literary periodization into question.)
Twain's notes also function as parabasis. The editors of the California edition have shown the degree to which Twain's notes are unreliable. In note 8, he claims without evidence that customs followed by James I were followed during the much earlier reign of Edward; in Chapters 16 and 31 he relies upon an anonymous "ancient chronicler" cited by Leigh Hunt; in Chapter 11, he appears to plagiarize by copying without attribution a quotation from Edward Hall's Chronicle; in Chapter 14 he models his account of the English palace bedroom on Hippolyte Taine's The Ancient Regime, without giving any attribution; in the same chapter, he attributes to Hume's History of England material that actually came from Froude's History of England; in Chapter 22 he paraphrases without attribution a passage from The English Rogue; his note on the use of this source in Chapter 23 seriously understates the extent of his borrowing. Egregiously, he introduces in Chapter 9 direct quotations for which no source at all has been found. (14) The narrative "we" of The Prince and the Pauper uses the apparatus of scholarship in such a way as to make us question its objectivity.
Clemens's invention of Twain as pompous, incompetent scholar reflects the same phenomenon of self-division already observed in the double identities of Tom Canty and Edward Tudor; Twain's editorial "we" mockingly acknowledges that condition. His interruptions of the text draw attention to an inability to disengage himself from ideology--that is, from the alignment with royalty seen in the use of the royal "we." A good example occurs at the beginning of Chapter 16. After describing how Tom Canty has almost wholly acclimatized himself to royal ceremony in four days, Twain interjects: "Let us privileged ones hurry to the great banqueting room and have a glance at matters there whilst Tom is being made ready for the imposing occasion" (135). Such reflexivity may remind the reader, tritely, that we and he are "privileged" in the sense of being able to move together imaginatively in space and time while invented characters are not. But calling readers "privileged" suggests another meaning, too: that Twain and his bourgeois, novel-reading public are the leisure-class descendents of the capitalism about to arise from the English Reformation. However much the legitimacy of that system is satirized, readers (like us and like Twain) are part of it. As members of the bourgeoisie, narrator and reader are more likely to empathize with the novel's scenes of wealth and royal privilege than they are with the scenes of poverty and privation that Edward witnesses. From this perspective, readers are like Edward in viewing poverty vicariously, as it were, or in "Roughing It," to use Twain's earlier metaphor. If so, then reader and narrator are stuck in this amber of self-satire. Even the narrator's use of the Anglicism "whilst" identifies him sympathizing with the cultural order he presumes to be independent of. He and we can't extricate ourselves. Novel-reading is already the acceptance of a prior irrational order, language, as legitimate, so our secondary enclosure within an irrational social order simply repeats that prior error.
Toward the end of The Prince and the Pauper, two moments of narrative reflexivity draw attention to this paralyzed condemnation of reader and narrator. The first is the narrator's account of the "magnificent" ceremony on coronation day. We read of the "marvelous spectacle"
but now we are about to be astonished in earnest ... presently a special envoy from some distant corner of the Orient, marching with the general body of foreign ambassadors, crosses this bar of sunshine, and we catch our breath, the glory that streams and flashes and palpitates about him is so overpowering, for he is crusted from head to heel with gems (265)
To the extent the narrator considers himself and us "astonished in earnest" by some special envoy of the Orient "crusted from head to heel with gems," we and he are also implicated in the bedazzlement of wealth and ceremony that constitutes the state's fraudulent assertion of legitimacy. Perhaps the passage could be read as a form of self-loathing by the narrator; in this case the phrase "in earnest" becomes a proto-Brechtian sarcasm leveled by the narrator at himself and his reader. Is anyone capable of looking on wealth without awe or envy? Can human readers and writers see the world for what it is? According to this reading, displays of wealth must "astonish" us in the word's etymological sense, of "thunder": coronation day, like narrative, is an irruption of arbitrary sound that makes onlookers pause.
The second example comes at the climactic moment when Tom is finally able to prompt the King to recall what he did with the Great Seal. The scene is described thus:
As Tom checked off his details, and the other boy nodded his head in recognition of them, the great audience and the officials stared in puzzled wonderment; the tale sounded like true history, yet how could this impossible conjunction between a prince and a beggar-boy have come about? (274)
Here Twain calls attention to what J. Hillis Miller calls "free indirect discourse"--the apparent reproduction of the thoughts of created characters that becomes indistinguishable from the narrator's voice (Literature as Conduct, 166-69). Here, it is the audience and the officials staring in puzzled wonderment who may ask themselves the question about the impossible conjunction of prince and beggar-boy; however, the question is also a rhetorical one, understandable as addressed directly to the reader. How, indeed, could such an "impossible juncture" come about, except in a work of fiction, like this one by the invented Mark Twain, who is created by the story he tells? The way narrator, character, and reader are indissolubly joined, as creations of language, becomes especially evident in the reflexivity of these climactic moments.
Peripeteia through the "Mark" of the Great Royal Seal
The fact that the plot resolution is achieved through the absurdity of an arbitrary sign is of course part of a longstanding parody of this literary convention, whereby the identities of protagonists like Odysseus or Oedipus are improbably revealed. In the English novel and romance, satire of the convention occurs at least since Fielding, where the strawberry mark on the leg or some other indelible feature miraculously "confirms" a putatively pre-existent identity. This literary history makes Twain's ending a parabasis, because it attempts to secure meaning by a sign whose arbitrariness calls the existence of identity into question. The same mark legitimizes identity and the state. Twain could have used any object whose whereabouts were known only to prince and pauper to "establish" the truth of their identity. That he chose the Great Seal satirizes the unshakeable human belief in the validity of self and state. The seal's actual arbitrariness is made clear when Tom Canty explains that he had used the device not to assert the legitimacy of the state but to crack nuts. (15) Of course, the novel's conclusion is also reflexive for another reason: its plot resolution is achieved through a "mark"--in other words, through the fictional entity the novel created.
This perspective on Twain as narrator is undecidable. We understand that Twain is trapped into a dilemma from which he cannot disengage himself: writing occludes the authentic; both self and state are fictions whose illegitimacy can be questioned but never exchanged for anything more real. Because this paralysis is also allegorized in the novel's alternating stories, The Prince and the Pauper is an early example of "paired narratives" that critics have recognized as a defining trait of Twain's work. (16) This alternation elevates to the narrative plane the micro-doubling evident in Twain's earlier penchant for surrogates or "invented friends" like Brown (Travels with Mr. Brown), Erikson and Markiss (Roughing It), Harris (A Tramp Abroad). Like these fictional beings and Twain, the Prince and Tom Canty become doppelgangers; they do so when they exchange clothes and stand side by side in front of a mirror:
The two went and stood side by side before a great mirror, and lo, a miracle: there did not seem to have been any change made! They stared at each other, then at the glass, then at each other again. At last the puzzled princeling said, "What does thou make of this?" (18)
Looking at each other and into the mirror produces the same result: the differences between the two boys have disappeared.
A Lacanian critic might read this scene as an example of the le stade du miroir--the phase in which the ego is born in the illusion of its unity, precipitating what Lacan calls the world of human meconnaissance. (17) For Lacan, the mirror-stage makes the Real inaccessible--except in dreams, slips-of-the-tongue, etc.--throwing the self into the neurotic worlds of the Symbolic driven by the Imaginary. But such an interpretation would be a misleading metaphor for the kind of delusion Twain is getting at. For Lacan as for Freud, neurosis results from the repression of drives--of the Id or the Real--which remain present even when direct accessibility to them is impossible. By contrast, for Twain it is language, not the repression of drives, that confers the delusion of unitary selfhood. Twain depicts the mirror scene as confirmation of what has "always, already" been the case--Tom and Edward were individually divided by stories before they came together in front of the mirror. When they see each other as the same, they enact more dramatically the same illusion of unity, the same departure from authenticity, understood to take place in every act of articulation--for example, in the constitutive division of their author into Clemens and Twain. So in The Prince and the Pauper, the complementary delusions of the principal characters only write large the fate of anyone who listens to stories or speaks.
That these two characters and their two realms form continuous parallels is indicated in many scenes: Tom's mother's doubts about his identity (69-71) recall the doubts of St. John about the new Prince's identity (47-49). John Canty's being forced to drink from a loving cup (74) is repeated when his son Tom does so at a palace banquet (79). The true prince in a crowd is described as "under that tossing sea of life" (74), while a few pages later Tom Canty is "buried in his silken cushions" (77). Each character must acclimatize himself to new customs in dressing: the elaborate replacement of the King's defective hose is balanced by Hendon's repairing the garments the Prince will wear. Tom Canty's adjustment to his state dinner (Chapter 16) is juxtaposed with the Prince's serving the family of the goodwife who came to his assistance (Chapter 19). Each character is befriended by a man (Hertford and Hendon) who seeks help in gaining property. Each becomes aware of the need for mercy to replace strict justice--Tom Canty in pardoning the prisoners (Chapter 15), the Prince after witnessing the burning of witches and the unjust conviction of prisoners (Chapter 27). Each succeeds in escaping the dominating influence of surrogate fathers: Tom Canty revokes Henry VIII's condemnation of Norfolk; the Prince escapes the depradations of John Canty. Although Tom goes through the motions of kingship and the prince must on occasion treat commoners as equals, neither character abandons the sense of selfhood or identity he was born with. Despite the arguments of critics who seek to infer a Twainian allegory of development behind their parallel trajectories, neither character learns or changes. (18)
These parallels suggest the same kind of cultural determinism implied in Twain's earlier depictions of the enormous influence of western narratives, which begins in childhood--for example, in Tom Sawyer's fantasies or in the dueling of the Heidelberg students. Children are depicted as absorbing culturally-determined identities effortlessly; once ingrained, their legitimacy is not easily questioned and never shaken. Tom Canty and the Prince believe they are what society has told them they are---despite their absolute equality in front of the mirror. And by the end of the novel, all of their experiences, which for readers might contradict those assumptions, fail to change for them their original certainty as to who they are.
A corresponding blindness to the illegitimacy of the state is allegorized by an episode that explains the origin of aristocracies from a "state of nature." In Chapter 22 Edward establishes his dominance over Hugo, the ruffian, after beating him in a gladiatorial contest; Edward's arbitrary title (Foo-foo) is annulled and he is "crowned king of the Gamecocks" by the tramps (194). however, his victory over his much larger opponent was only possible because of his prior training in the art of swordsmanship. The scene shows that monarchy and aristocracy were never "natural" but artificially imposed, the result of superior training: thus the Tudors' "right" to reign originated solely in such culturally-developed artifice, which the commoners actually celebrate by bestowing titles like "king."
The main narrative of The Prince and the Pauper would remain a schematic allegory of the tenacious hold of human delusion were it not for a secondary narrative embedded in it, the story of Miles Hendon. His quest to regain his inheritance embodies expectations of normalcy among middle-class readers, like those elicited in the final tableau of Tom Sawyer; however, as in that novel, those bourgeois expectations are raised only to be mocked.
Modelled on Shakespearean plots like that of The Tempest or Biblical paradigms of fraternal rivalry (so much so that the character's identity seems inseparable from this literary provenance), the story of Miles Hendon depicts the restoration of normalcy as an older brother's avenging a violation of primogeniture; thus far from exposing the irrational order he benefits from, Miles Hendon upholds it. In fact, we are shown that the action of his villainous brother Hugh in fooling their credulous father is no different in kind from the "normal" lobbying that is the day-to-day business of the court--represented, for example, by Hertford's effort to persuade Tom Canty, the new king, to assent to a plan to enrich his brother and son by expropriating church property (115). (19) Like Washington Hawkins in The Gilded Age or Tom Sawyer, Miles represents the vast social "average" between the poles of prince and pauper, perhaps the spirit of what will come to be the American middle class--supremely confident of an identity that is actually spurious and pretending to a respectability even greater than that of their English forbearers. Miles Hendon and Twain, the Anglophile narrator, may be parallel in their credulous deference to wealth. Hendon anticipates a long line of blandly named protagonists, including Hank Morgan and David Wilson, who depict the middle class as blithely unaware of how they benefit from the fraudulence of a state whose legitimacy they uphold.
The Mad Hermit
Confidence in an identity that is only constructed is the continuing blindness of Hendon, Edward, and Tom; this illusion is dramatically exposed in the episode of the mad hermit (Chapters 20-21). Temporarily escaped from the band of thieves, Edward Tudor introduces himself as king to a Catholic hermit who claims, in turn, to be an archangel. This juxtaposition of two assertions of formidable, unprovable identity in a remote part of the dense woods makes the incident seem a synecdoche for the novel's general allegory of delusional, fabricated selves. After Edward declares he is a king, the hermit imagines a narrative of abdication and conversion into which his visitor fits as a model of Christian asceticism; like everyone else, the hermit sees the other only as his own projection of it. For his part, Edward considers the hermit mad, but there is no way for the reader to confirm that diagnosis: because the hermit is capable of dissembling, his self-identification as an archangel may well have been a defensive ruse, like feigned madness, to distract a visitor who might be a potential enemy. (We learn the hermit has good reason for such fears: like other Catholics
he has been dispossessed by Henry VIII, of whose death he is unaware.) Thus the "truth" of the hermit's interior remains enigmatic; as in the case of Markiss (Roughing It) and Laura Hawkins (The Gilded Age), madness and sanity may be indistinguishable. The hermit's apparent belief in the reality he narrates--and the parallel it forms with the experiences of Edward, Tom, and Hendon--is an early example of a textual willingness to tolerate the possibility of a wholly derealized world bordering on solipsism, one that will eventually culminate in The Mysterious Stranger.
The undecidability of the hermit's motives is compounded by his regret for being designated an archangel, since now he can no longer hope to become pope. Any satire of the Reformation here points in opposite directions. On the one hand, the obduracy of the hermit's Catholicism may be revealed in his preference for the highest earthly church office over the unmediated contact with divinity favored by Protestantism ("I have seen the Deity face to face"); on the other hand, it is precisely the self-validating nature of Protestantism's call for such direct contact, resulting in the hermit's claim to be an archangel, that leads Edward to question his sanity. To each other, Catholics and Protestants must be mad. But to the hermit, Edward's claim of being king is just as crazy. In the woods--in the state of nature?--religious tradition is just as impotent as primogeniture to guarantee the authenticity of human identity. These aporias of naming are reflected in the variety of ways Twain refers to Edward's interlocutor: sometimes neutrally ("old man" or "hermit"), sometimes using the language of fairy tale ("grisly, monstrous spider" or "ogre") and sometimes, without qualification, as "archangel." It is here that the text apparently accepts the plausibility of the hermit's solipsism. It is as if the narrator is at as much of loss as the reader to identify this entity without a proper name; in that role, the hermit may function as the lowest common denominator of all human beings. That he reverts to the all-too-human desire to murder the other he cannot comprehend is consistent with Twain's world in which such aggression is universal and ineradicable.
The Disappearance of the Wholly Other in the State's Bedazzlement
As Leland Krauth has shown, readings of the novel as normative melodrama supportive of its final tableau founder on the disappearance of John Canty, the man whose implacable opposition to both Tom and Edward make him analogous to Injun Joe and his mysterious companion in Tom Sawyer (Proper Mark Twain, 165). Throughout the novel, John Canty is the other who refuses to be assimilated into the ongoing spectacle of society--whether the "legitimate" political order or the gang of thieves and tramps that apes and deconstructs it. We can see the ending of The Prince and the Pauper as a celebration of a happy norm of family, state, and personal identity only on the condition that we forget John Canty, as we are invited by Judge Thatcher to forget Injun Joe or his nameless companion. Their exclusion is of the same order as the novel's deadpan depiction of the horrors and injustice taken for granted in English society: the destitution of Offal Court (Chapter 2); the practice of boiling victims, the prosecution of witches (Chapter 15); the criminalization of hunger and poverty (Chapter 16); robbery and feigned begging by tramps (Chapter 18); the expropriation of Catholic monks by Henry VIII (Chapter 20); the arbitrary definition of capital offenses (Chapter 23); corrupt constables (Chapter 24); summary punishments by members of the aristocracy (Chapter 27); Henry's custom of mounting heads of executed prisoners on pikes (Chapter 29). Twain's account of this nightmare state proceeds for the most part without commentary: although the Prince, Hendon, and Tom Canty protest some of these abuses, the narrator rarely does.
In stark contrast to Twain's impassivity in response to the injustices of the English state is his apparent approval of its ceremony, pageantry, and color--for example, at the river pageant (Chapter 9); the description of the barge and commemorative celebration (Chapter 11); the state dinner (Chapter 16); the coronation (Chapter 32). (20) One effect of the inconsistency is to emphasize the incommensurability of the two "worlds" of prince and pauper and thus to reinforce the disparities of England's class society. These descriptions center on the spectacles or signs of sovereignty--that is, the dress of the monarchy and aristocracy, its refined traditions, its sounds, colors, lights, and sensory displays. From one point of view, all of these passages are elaborations of and hence reducible to one--to the Great Seal of England, the official signature without which sovereignty could not be exercised. So the effect of these passages is to emphasize the degree to which sovereignty--while perhaps necessary or inescapable--is also arbitrary: that its "signature" is nothing more than a spectacle of the unreal, of what Twain had earlier called "the gilded," or of what in Tom Sawyer he satirized as the permanent "show" of adulthood. (21) This aesthetic way of looking at the world also recalls the passages in A Tramp Abroad where Twain looked at it or as the transient colors of a soap bubble (Chapter 42) or as an Alpine atmospheric effect (Chapter 44). In these cases, the baldly rendered Foucauldian world of feudalism/capitalism is reimagined as unreal. Offal Court, witch trials, and whipping boys are subsumed into an arbitrary Paterian play of light and shadow or what the film critic Marc Vernet called clignotements (flashing lights) (22)
Twain's spectacle of the world as clignotements may be understood in opposite ways. It may constitute a limit-case of the way a world without referents, like the Derridean postal, may appear when all prospect of the wholly other has finally disappeared from it: cut loose from any anchoring in the real, fraudulent selves and states may simply sparkle like a meaningless pageant. In such a world any orientation toward a future encounter with the truly other--any hope of messianicity or the end to deferral--has been renounced. On the one hand, such a dystopia may also be presented to us as the logical extrapolation of the narrator's apparent numbness to human suffering; on the other hand, it may be presented as perspicaciously hopeless, after all, given the prospect that the only alternative the novel has entertained, John Canty as wholly other, affords as little potential to change this world as Injun Joe does to change Petersburg. These antithetical views of the narrator's spectacle-world coexist in undecidability.
Twain's General Note on Blue Laws
Twain's last word is his "General Note," which has received little attention from critics. Like the reflexive passages in the narration, it functions as a parabasis: though Twain appears to speak "in his true voice," this faux-unmasking only further demonstrates the separation of voice from authenticity. Personas are never replaced by real people but only by new personas. Twain inserts himself into a controversy, summarized in Trumbull's Blue Laws True and False, surrounding the Puritan statutes regulating behavior in New Haven and other New England colonies. These anti-Catholic and anti-Quaker laws, dating from the Commonwealth in England, criminalized adultery, failure to observe the Sabbath, and so forth. Twain defends the Blue Laws as "humane and kindly" especially in contrast to the "bloody English law" (296) which reigned for centuries before and after their introduction. He points out that Blue Laws reduced the number of capital crimes from over 223 to fourteen; his defense of them seems especially vigorous in the light of his use of capital letters, exclamation point, and footnote. What is the effect of this strident, baffling "General Note"?
We have seen that the unscholarly narrator of The Prince and the Pauper reflected a certain Anglophilia in his use of Anglicisms and fascination with the pageantry of monarchy. In the general note Twain drops that guise and adopts the voice of a patriotic American. This new persona is very different from usual constructions of Twain as skeptical iconoclast; it more closely resembles the fussy prudery of the royal cupbearer, his surrogate as storyteller in 1601. As patriot Twain shows that despite any Anglophilia he has not been able, after all, to "de-nationalize" himself; at the same time, as incompetent scholar he undermines his own political convictions. So he stands as an example of the same blithe self-assertion he satirizes in his characters. That suspicion is strengthened by a juxtaposition he seems unaware of. Following his sources, Twain dates the American Blue Laws to 1641, the year of the Interregnum. In other words, American Blue Laws would have been unthinkable without the second Cromwell--the one whose namesake received the letter from Hugh Latimer quoted in Twain's front matter. Thus, the letter that initiates the novel by announcing the literal birth of the "offspring of Henry VIII" contains within itself an allusion to that event's historical offspring--the figure who would undo the English monarchy and whose followers would set in motion American republicanism and Blue Laws. Thus the "General Note" updates the message of the novel--that both self and state are fictions--by showing us that from its beginning to end, selves and states have been brought into being by fabricated letters. We learn from this juxtaposition that to protest against English law in an American voice is a gesture that may have been "always, already" inherent in the fragile legitimacy of the English state and in the illusions of its sovereign, which The Prince and the Pauper has just narrated. That Twain's patriotic protest can never confer a greater legitimacy on America is made plain by the fact that the public face of sovereignty--capital punishment as the state's prerogative to define the human subject--exists in the United States too, albeit as penalty for fewer crimes. Twain's strained defense of American law--invoking capital letters, exclamation point, footnote--shows that the only difference between the exercise of state power in England and America is one of degree, not kind. There is one final explanation of the "General Note," which draws on those passages where sovereignty appears as only a colorful pageant: that in the end, the awful/offal laws of England and America have never been any more than an illusion, a clignotement, a color--"blue."
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Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont
(1) One critic who sees the stories of Edward and Tom as allegorizing a learning process through which they arrive at a norm Twain endorses is Stonely, who sees the novel as "an effort to unite apparently contradictory democratic and aristocratic sentiments." Stonely says Twain's "perspective is primarily romantic," establishing "a partial reconciliation between the masculine and the feminine" (82). Fulton believes that Edward and Tom have to undergo complementary educations in order to achieve a bond with each other that respects each other's differences (34). Krauth argues that the novel's peripetieia is brought about by "speech and knowledge" and that the "power of speech" (164) leads to the victory of Edward and Tom over evil, a pattern conceived on the model of melodrama.
(2) For as discussion of the way articulation makes recovery of the true author impossible, see de Man's Blindness and Insight, 218-19.
(3) Levine emphasizes the complete dissociation in Sartor Resartus between the author and both Teufelsdrockh and the Editor (55-58); he claims that Carlylean irony displaces attention "from the thing described to language itself" (43). Desaulniers links Carlyle's thought with Paul de Man's (100-102). Schatz-Jakobsen argues that "Characteristics" (which Twain knew) hoaxes the reader and creates undecidability; Carlyle's irony is described as unstable through its rhetorical excess--a conclusion that suggests another affinity between Carlyle's work and de Man's. In his "A First and Last Declaration," Kierkegaard denies that he should be identified with any of the pseudonyms under whose name he wrote. The absolute divorce between the empirical Henry James or Joseph Conrad and their various narrative voices is central to Miller's Literature as Conduct and "Heart of Darkness Revisited." For the argument that canonical American literature can be read as allegorizing this theme, see Chapter 1 of my study, The Figure of the Road.
(4) Critics have often turned to Continental philosophy to help illuminate Twain's works. Alan Smith invoked Derrida in discussing the importance of the trace in Puddn' head Wilson. Schmitz argued that Huck Finn's language should be read in terms of the Derridean supplement., and Leonard invoked that concept in explaining the narration of A Connecticut Yankee. Dolis saw Twain's travel literature as Derridean "detour" or metaphor for metaphor (62). Briden analyzed Tom Sawyer's situation as an instance of Heidegger's account of "thrown-ness" (51). In my essay on Joan of Arc, I adopt Heidegger's concept of Vorhabe. David Smith sees an anticipation of Nietzsche in The Mysterious Stranger (195); Bird sees an anticipation of Lacan (192). The "death of the author" as prefigured in Kierkegaard and theorized by Roland Barthes is taken up in my essay on The Gilded Age. In Mark Twain on the Loose, Michelson found analogies for Tom Sawyer in Dadaism; in Printer's Devil he compares the darkness of Twain's last novels with the despair of Beckett and Sartre (208). Howe was the first to note the way Twain develops themes later important to the Frankfurt School; my essay on Tom Sawyer examines Adorno's homage to Twain. My article on Connecticut Yankee sees that novel as deconstructing the ideas of both the self and the Enlightenment that provided its philosophical rationale for the modern world.
(5) Twain, The Prince and the Pauper, 141, 153. All further quotations from the novel are from this edition and appear in the text in parentheses.
(6) For the puns on cant and Canty, see 148 and 195; for the puns on awful and offal, see 123 and 127. There are twelve usages of "mark" and its variants, the most important of which occur when the king recognizes Hendon, the agent of the peripeteia; he is twice referred to as a "mark" for all eyes (282, 285).
(7) This pun was first introduced in the title The Gilded Age, which ostensibly refers to contemporary America; however, the novel's multilingual chapter epigraphs encourage expansion of its satire of corruption from the historical present to cultures and eras throughout human history.
(8) Despite Tom's proclamation of mercy, the inherent injustice of the English legal system is made clear when Hugo is able to entrap Edward Tudor (Chapter 22), when a constable is able to cheat a woman out of the full value of her pig (Chapter 23), and when Hugh Hendon, relying on his ingratiation with Hertford, is able to exercise unilateral, autocratic powers over the men he imprisons (Chapter 27). Edward vows to restore mercy to the kingdom (238); however, Twain's note to this chapter ending, quoting excerpts from Trumbull's Blue Laws, True and False, details continuing instances of the excessive, arbitrary power of the crown (294).
(9) There is another sense in which Tom's pardon of the prisoners resembles Portia's in being selfish: in both cases his determination of innocence-is a result of his own fallible intuition. Because he can personally identify the accused poisoner as the same man who saved a child from drowning on the day as the alleged murder, Tom confirms his alibi; however, mistaken human attributions of identity happen everywhere in this novel, and we learn that even the existing English judicial system regarded eyewitness testimony as open to challenge. In the second case Tom absolves the woman charged with witchcraft on the basis of his assumption that everyone acts only on the basis of survival, so that the woman would have saved herself by demonstrating her powers if she possessed them. That Tom's is an entirely secular view of humanity is obvious; more important, it is a view that takes as its unquestioned foundation the primacy of the human self. In the end, Twain depicts Tom's pardons as just as arbitrary--just as much based on private inferences about guilt or innocence--as those of the system he is challenging. The contradiction between calculated and uncalculated justifications for mercy noted here has a contemporary resonance in Derrida's On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. There Derrida argues that openness to the arrival of the wholly other must be predicated on the existence of an incalculable forgiveness anterior to it; at the same time, that forgiveness cannot be said.
(10) The term "parabasis" was originally used to describe that part of a Greek play spoken by the chorus in which the playwright was thought to be speaking "in his own voice." The application of the term was broadened in the work of Schlegel, so much so that de Man redefined it to mean "self-conscious narrator" (Blindness and Insight, 218).
(11) This is the dangerous principle embodied in Twain's most famous figure for speculation of all kinds, Colonel Sellers, in The Gilded Age, who reappears in The American Claimant (1891). In the earlier novel Sellers creates a makeshift map on his dining room table where different towns and geographical features are represented by forks, salt-cellars, etc.; the map illustrates his get-rich-quick schemes. (A hand drawn rendering of the map was tipped in to the book, at some expense, by Clemens.) The abyssal potential of a world of endless meaningless signs reappears in the nonsense words peppering Harris's mock travel-guide in A Tramp Abroad, Chapter 30.
(12) For a discussion of this doctrine, see the classic study by Kantorowicz
(13) Twain's view of the historians he cites is inconsistent. His "General Note" argues that Commonwealth Blue Laws were an advance in enlightened law-enforcement over the unilateral power of the crown; nevertheless, he also cites with approval Hume, whose critique of the Whig interpretation of history is famous. In his selective quotation the narrator also exemplifies the hermeneutic circle in the work of historians--the selection of isolated data in support of pre-conceived interpretations of history. White has argued that history must be understood in narrative patterns; in Twain's work this is borne out by the conflation of history and legend in A Tramp Abroad.
(14) The editors of the California edition speculate that Twain himself is the source of these quotations (309).
(15) The application of the same arbitrary sign to both self and state has two counterparts later in Twain's career. "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" ends with representations of the "town's official seal," which has changed from "Lead us not into temptation" to "Lead us into temptation." Twain's placement of an equals sign between the two mottos shows them to amount to a Nietzschean equivalence: personal morality and state morality, as the story itself makes clear, are simply forms of amorality. In Puddn' head Wilson fingerprints are both the indicators of spurious identity and the state's means of law-enforcement.
(16) Ever since Kaplan linked "Twain" and "twin," there have been numerous studies of the motif of doubles in Twain's work. In addition to paired characters within works, many of Twain's books can be regarded as pairs or sequels, even if they were not originally published with such an intention: The Gilded Age and The American Claimant; A Tramp Abroad and More Tramps Abroad; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; Pudd'nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins.
(17) Lacan's lecture on the mirror stage was given in 1936. For an English translation, see "The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I," in Ecrits, 1-7. For a discussion of the concept, see Wilden.
(18) For critics who see the novel as narrating a learning and individuating process; see note 1. Emerson's response--"The differences between the prince and the pauper are only skin-deep" (123)--seems just as plausible.
(19) The equivalence between normal politics and atavism, between lobbying and Machiavellianism, is often depicted by Twain. In A Burlesque Autobiography he juxtaposes a slapstick account of "legitimate" and "illegitimate" western corruption since the Norman conquest with cartoons depicting the contemporary Erie Railroad bond scandal. In The Gilded Age, the "innocent" deceit of the other implicit in the snake oil marketing tactics of Colonel Sellers or in the seductive arts of Laura Hawkins's lobbying is only the civilized face of the capitalist rapacity exemplified by the railroads. In Tom Sawyer the normalcy of Tom or Judge Thatcher can be affirmed only by ignoring what they have in common with Injun Joe or his anonymous "ragged" companion. In A Tramp Abroad the German aristocracy that frequents the opera (Chapter 9) accepts as normal the code of delusional violence practiced by the students of Heidelberg (Chapter 4).
(20) These passages, too frequent to ignore but too extensive for quotation, have been noticed with unease by critics. Krauth calls them, with some justice, "spectacles for the sake of grandeur" (161). Stonely argues that they reflect "Twain's love of a well-defined hierarchy" (83). Everett claims that Twain was "disenchanted with monarchy if not with its trappings" (123). As noted above, the river pageant in Chapter 9 is unattributed, and the California editors assume it was written by Twain; the fact that an account of empty ceremony is itself "ungrounded" in any source or referent makes the passage an example in narrative of what it describes in ritual.
(21) Tom's penchant for showing off, staging, and display was first analyzed by Cox, 140-49.
(22) The term "clignotement" is discussed by the film critic Vernet, who sees the blinking lights of the noir city as constitutive of its deceiving urban milieu; thus "clignotement" is a kind of cinematic equivalent of the literary mark. Twain's Paterian word-painting, full of the opalescence of gilding and jewels, may have a similar bedazzling effect.
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|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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