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Mark Twain > Those Extraordinary Twins > Preface

Those Extraordinary Twins


A man who is born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of
it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has
no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some
people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality. He knows
these people, he knows the selected locality, and he trusts that he can
plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results. So he
goes to work. To write a novel? No--that is a thought which comes
later; in the beginning he is only proposing to tell a little tale; a
very little tale; a six-page tale. But as it is a tale which he is not
acquainted with, and can only find out what it is by listening as it goes
along telling itself, it is more than apt to go on and on and on till it
spreads itself into a book. I know about this, because it has happened
to me so many times.

And I have noticed another thing: that as the short tale grows into the
long tale, the original intention (or motif) is apt to get abolished and
find itself superseded by a quite different one. It was so in the case
of a magazine sketch which I once started to write--a funny and fantastic
sketch about a prince and a pauper; it presently assumed a grave cast of
its own accord, and in that new shape spread itself out into a book.
Much the same thing happened with "Pudd'nhead Wilson." I had a
sufficiently hard time with that tale, because it changed itself from a
farce to a tragedy while I was going along with it--a most embarrassing
circumstance. But what was a great deal worse was, that it was not one
story, but two stories tangled together; and they obstructed and
interrupted each other at every turn and created no end of confusion and
annoyance. I could not offer the book for publication, for I was afraid
it would unseat the reader's reason. I did not know what was the matter
with it, for I had not noticed, as yet, that it was two stories in one.
It took me months to make that discovery. I carried the manuscript back
and forth across the Atlantic two or three times, and read it and studied
over it on shipboard; and at last I saw where the difficulty lay. I had
no further trouble. I pulled one of the stories out by the roots, and
left the other one--a kind of literary Caesarean operation.

Would the reader care to know something about the story which I pulled
out? He has been told many a time how the born-and-trained novelist
works. Won't he let me round and complete his knowledge by telling him
how the jack-leg does it?

Originally the story was called "Those Extraordinary Twins." I meant to
make it very short. I had seen a picture of a youthful Italian "freak"
or "freaks" which was--or which were--on exhibition in our cities--a
combination consisting of two heads and four arms joined to a single body
and a single pair of legs--and I thought I would write an extravagantly
fantastic little story with this freak of nature for hero--or heroes--
a silly young miss for heroine, and two old ladies and two boys for the
minor parts. I lavishly elaborated these people and their doings, of
course. But the tale kept spreading along, and spreading along, and
other people got to intruding themselves and taking up more and more room
with their talk and their affairs. Among them came a stranger named
Pudd'nhead Wilson, and a woman named Roxana; and presently the doings of
these two pushed up into prominence a young fellow named Tom Driscoll,
whose proper place was away in the obscure background. Before the book
was half finished those three were taking things almost entirely into
their own hands and working the whole tale as a private venture of their
own--a tale which they had nothing at all to do with, by rights.

When the book was finished and I came to look around to see what had
become of the team I had originally started out with--Aunt Patsy Cooper,
Aunt Betsy Hale, the two boys, and Rowena the light-weight heroine--they
were nowhere to be seen; they had disappeared from the story some time or
other. I hunted about and found them found them stranded, idle,
forgotten, and permanently useless. It was very awkward. It was awkward
all around; but more particularly in the case of Rowena, because there
was a love-match on, between her and one of the twins that constituted
the freak, and I had worked it up to a blistering heat and thrown in a
quite dramatic love-quarrel, wherein Rowena scathingly denounced her
betrothed for getting drunk, and scoffed at his explanation of how it had
happened, and wouldn't listen to it, and had driven him from her in the
usual "forever" way; and now here she sat crying and broken-hearted; for
she had found that he had spoken only the truth; that it was not he, but
the other half of the freak, that had drunk the liquor that made him
drunk; that her half was a prohibitionist and had never drunk a drop in
his life, and, although tight as a brick three days in the week, was
wholly innocent of blame; and indeed, when sober, was constantly doing
all he could to reform his brother, the other half, who never got any
satisfaction out of drinking, anyway, because liquor never affected him.
Yes, here she was, stranded with that deep injustice of hers torturing
her poor torn heart.

I didn't know what to do with her. I was as sorry for her as anybody
could be, but the campaign was over, the book was finished, she was
sidetracked, and there was no possible way of crowding her in, anywhere.
I could not leave her there, of course; it would not do. After spreading
her out so, and making such a to-do over her affairs, it would be
absolutely necessary to account to the reader for her. I thought and
thought and studied and studied; but I arrived at nothing. I finally saw
plainly that there was really no way but one--I must simply give her the
grand bounce. It grieved me to do it, for after associating with her so
much I had come to kind of like her after a fashion, notwithstanding she
was such an ass and said such stupid irritating things and was so
nauseatingly sentimental. Still it had to be done. So, at the top of
Chapter XVII, I put in a "Calendar" remark concerning July Fourth, and
began the chapter with this statistic:

"Rowena went out in the back yard after supper to see the fireworks and
fell down the well and got drowned."

It seemed abrupt, but I thought maybe the reader wouldn't notice it,
because I changed the subject right away to something else. Anyway it
loosened up Rowena from where she was stuck and got her out of the way,
and that was the main thing. It seemed a prompt good way of weeding out
people that had got stalled, and a plenty good enough way for those
others; so I hunted up the two boys and said "they went out back one
night to stone the cat and fell down the well and got drowned." Next I
searched around and found old Aunt Patsy Cooper and Aunt Betsy Hale where
they were aground, and said "they went out back one night to visit the
sick and fell down the well and got drowned." I was going to drown some
of the others, but I gave up the idea, partly because I believed that if
I kept that up it would arouse attention, and perhaps sympathy with those
people, and partly because it was not a large well and would not hold any
more anyway.

Still the story was unsatisfactory. Here was a set of new characters who
were become inordinately prominent and who persisted in remaining so to
the end; and back yonder was an older set who made a large noise and a
great to-do for a little while and then suddenly played out utterly and
fell down the well. There was a radical defect somewhere, and I must
search it out and cure it.

The defect turned out to be the one already spoken of--two stories in
one, a farce and a tragedy. So I pulled out the farce and left the
tragedy. This left the original team in, but only as mere names, not as
characters. Their prominence was wholly gone; they were not even worth
drowning; so I removed that detail. Also I took those twins apart and
made two separate men of them. They had no occasion to have foreign
names now, but it was too much trouble to remove them all through, so I
left them christened as they were and made no explanation.

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