As a companion read to Pudd'nhead Wilson this story was a very interesting read. The version I read (not sure if it applies to all editions) included commentary from Mark Twain in relation to the story itself and its later transformation into the Pudd'nhead Wilson story.
Apparently, Twain worked on this story as a serial with the creative idea of a pair of conjoined twins (from Italy) each with very different mindsets. These twins visit a small Missouri town and astound the residents with their ideas, wit and charm. Each of the twins becomes members of different groups and organizations in the town (often organizations pitted against one another) and eventually a charge of assault is brought against the twins. Pudd'nhead Wilson acts as defense lawyer in the case and comically asserts that there's no way to determine which of the twins was consciously responsible for the assault and since you can't punish the guilty one without punishing the innocent one, they were set free. Similar "can't have one without the other" instances come about during elections to public office and other situations within conflicting organizations.
From a high level, you can see the similarities to the Pudd'nhead Wilson book. Many of the same characters are present and a lot of very similar situations come about.
As Twain put it, he started out planning to write this comical farce and ended up writing two stories in one. In the end, he yanked out the bits that made this one a comedy, changed the conjoined twins to 'normal' twins, modified some behaviors, and came up with the Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson. Fortunately, however, we are still left with this original piece that influenced the latter.
This story is hilarious in concept and has lots of great situational and verbal comedy. The writing is clever and fun, as is to be expected with Twain. Even his own interruptions and commentary serve as humorous additions to the story. The depth of theme and concept isn't as deep and the overall tone is more akin to some of his shorter whimsical stories (celebrated jumping frog, diaries of adam & eve, man who corrupted hadleyburg). In the end, it's a great tale that's well worth reading.
This story could certainly be read as a stand alone and be very entertaining. But for the full effect, I would suggest reading it along with the Tragedy that came as a result.
4 out of 5 stars
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