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.
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.
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.
This book is a sublime `drama' of errors. The prince and the pauper change clothes and are mistaken by the whole population for one another. The prince lives a life of a vagabond and the pauper a royal one. In other words, all men are equal; one has only to change the garments. And, `So evanescent and unstable are men's works in the world.'
This book gives a fair picture of England in the 16th century, worth a Defoe or a Swift: the immense chasm between the rich and the poor, a heavily biased and corrupt judicial system and extremely cruel punishment. `It was a crime to be hungry in England.'
People were hanged for trifling larcenies and slowly boiled for alleged poisoning. `Witches' were burnt at the stake: `My good old blameless mother strove to earn bread by nursing the sick; one of these died, the doctors knew not how, so my mother was burnt for a witch, whilst my babes looked on and wailed ... drink to the merciful English law that delivered her from the English hell!'
The rich chased their farmers away by foreclosures (changing farms in sheep ranges), making instantly beggars of them. They risked heavily to be sold as slaves.
This book is a bittersweet Breughelian comedy about human injustice, cruelty and ultimately generosity.
Not to be missed.
This classic story of mixed identity between the boy King Edward VI and pauper Tom Canty is a heartwarming and easy read. Mark Twain's first historical novel, it follows the tradition of of 19th century historical novels in telling as much about the assumptions of the time it was written (1881) as about the time it is set (1547), e.g. in terms of Royal mercy and concern for the poor. The language is a joy to read and this Kindle edition contains all the many illustrations.
on 6 July 2008
This book is a very funny and adventurous story that Mark Twain, (who was probably a genius), wrote about identity mistakes.
Tom Carty and Edward Tudor live very different lives yet they seem so similar - for one thing they look like each other. One day, the two boys meet and the heir to the throne and the poor poverty stricken lad have a wonderful idea and they carry it out...
The young men get a chance to live a new life and find out about how the outside world/ the life in the palace is like.
I am quite sure that you or your children have watched the Disney film of this book, which is quite amusing. Did you know that this book was the inspiration for it? Yes/ no, well know you do!