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BENEATH THE VEIL: CLOTHING, RACE, AND GENDER IN MARK TWAIN'S PUDD 'NHEAD WILSON Linda A. Morris University of California, Davis And thus in the land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil. —W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls ofBlack Folk Now who would b'lieve clo'es could do de like o' dat? —Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson The idyllic opening oí Pudd'nhead Wilson, with its description of Dawson's Landing's modest dwellings with whitewashed exteriors and a cat asleep in a flower box, concludes with the description of the village bounded on the front by the Mississippi River and on the back by a row ofhigh hills that, Mark Twain writes, were "clothed with forests from foot to summit."1 Thus, unobtrusively and in the context of a tranquil landscape, he introduces what is to become one of the major subtexts of the novel: namely, clothes as markers of identity, race, and gender. The text is rich with masquerading, with layering of clothing, with cross-dressing and misleading gender markers, with foppery, veiling and unveiling, and with clothing as cues (and mis-cues) to sexual and racial identity. Yet across the novel's critical history, Twain's preoccupation with clothing in the text has been all but invisible.2 For the first generation of critics and reviewers of Pudd'nhead Wilson, even the multiple acts of cross-dressing performed by both the slave heroine, Roxana, and her son escaped public notice. The reviewer for Cosmopolitan, for instance, called attention to a host of melodramatic elements in the novel, but made no mention of cross-dressing: exchanges of infants in the cradle, a hero with negro taint in his blood substituted for the legitimate white heir, midnight encounters in a haunted house between the false heir and 38Linda A. Morris his colored mother, murder by the villain of his supposed uncle and benefactor, accusation of an innocent foreigner, and final sensational acquittal and general unraveling ofthe tangled skein . . . ? This reviewer goes on in familiar nineteenth-century terms to extol the virtue of the text's black language: "How deliciously rich, racy, and copious is, for instance, his negro talk. The very gurgling laugh and cooing cadence seems, somehow, implied in the text."4 The reviewer for the Spectator, responding to the wry humor ofthe novel, wondered if Twain had "found Missouri audiences or readers slow to appreciate his jokes,"5 while the Bookman focused on the novelty of fingerprint records that ultimately reveal the true identity of the false heir who murders his purported uncle.6 These reviewers, as others across the work's critical history, responded to Pudd'nhead Wilson's deeply disturbing critique of racial categories, but none of them perceived how metaphors ofclothing and cross-dressed performances complicate and complement the racial issues at the core of the novel. More recently, Pudd'nhead Wilson criticism has taken two distinct directions. Scholars such as Hershel Parker have taken pains to understand how Twain composed Pudd'nhead Wilson, not being content to accept the author's flippant description of how he simply removed the Siamese twins from his original manuscript by Cesarean surgery once the slave Roxana and her son "took over" the text.7 By delicate surgical procedures of their own, these scholars have reconstructed Twain' s composing and revising processes that led to the ultimate creation of two texts, Pudd'nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins. They note, for example, that in the original manuscript, now known as the Morgan Manuscript, there were no changelings; Tom Driscoll was white, not black; and the Italian twins were Siamese twins who were ultimately hanged by the good citizens of Dawson' s Landing. (More accurately, only one of the twins was hanged; but as the citizenry deduced about Wilson's dog at the beginning ofthe story, killing one half of the animal would for all practical purposes also kill the other.) A second strand of modern scholarship, as represented in Susan Gilman and Forrest Robinson's collection of essays, Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson: Race, Conflict, and Culture, reads the text historically and interprets late...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 37-52
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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