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MonkeyNotes-The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
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LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Mark Twain began writing The Prince and the Pauper in 1877. His inspiration from the novel came from Charlotte M. Yonge's The Little Duke, set in tenth-century France, in which the young Richard of Normandy becomes a more compassionate and wise ruler after his father is murdered and he experiences a series of harrowing adventures in the world. Initially, Twain's intention was to set the story in the Victorian era, with Edward VII as the prince, but this proved unworkable. He began studying English history in earnest, and eventually settled on Edward Tudor, the son of King Henry VIII, as his subject. His journal entry for November 23, 1877, shows his plans: "Edward VI & a little pauper exchange places by accident a day or so before Henry VIII's death. The prince wanders in rags & suffers hardships & the pauper suffers the (to him) horrible miseries of princedom, up to the moment of crowning, in Westminster Abbey, when proof is brought & the mistake rectified."

Travel and other writing interrupted his work on the manuscript, and he shelved the project for nearly two years, until his wife and daughters encouraged him to work on the book again. The novel, which represented a departure from his previous, mostly autobiographical, works, was published in 1881 to mainly enthusiastic reviews.


The Prince and the Pauper is set in sixteenth-century England, a time of harsh, unjust laws and severe punishments for petty crimes. Indeed, the novel gives many examples of personal and institutional barbarism. While composing the novel, Mark Twain wrote to his friend, William Dean Howells, on the purpose of writing the book. "My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the exceeding severity of the laws of that day by inflicting some of their penalties upon the King himself and allowing him a chance to see the rest of them applied to others. All of this is to account for certain mildness which distinguished Edward VI's reign from those that preceded and followed it."

The Prince and the Pauper expresses the humanistic and progressive ideas of Mark Twain. However, it is also a children's tale, since it is narrated in a simple style "suited to the blunt moral perceptions of children." The innocence of the youthful protagonists, their uninhibited behavior, and their encounters with the adult world are amusingly unfurled in the story through Mark Twain's exceptional use of irony and humor.

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