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In Chapter Thirteen of The Prince and the Pauper we have the following observation about sewing practices:

He did as men have always done, and probably always will do, to the end of time – held the needle still, and tried to thrust the thread through the eye, which is the opposite of a woman's way.

Yet in Chapter Eleven of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we find the exact opposite:

You do a girl a tolerable poor, but you might fool me, maybe. Bless you, child, when you set out to thread a needle, don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it – that's the way a woman most always does; but a man always does 'tother way.

How can these passages in two books by Mark Twain be reconciled?


In previously researching this I found two mentions of this problem. In a children's activity book R. Kent Rassmusen glosses over it, leaving out part of the contradiction and just assuming that Twain wasn't sure. This, of course, hardly explains why he would write contradictory passages each written with no hint of uncertainty, and one of which need not have been written at all (i.e. it did not contribute to the plot as the other instance did).

In Notes and Queries (Seventh Series, Volume Fourth), published in 1887 while Twain would yet live another 20+ years, Ernest A. Ebblewhite raised the contradiction:

In 'The Prince and the Pauper' (Chatto & Windus, 1881), at p. 133, Miles Hendon soliloquizes, while endeavouring to use a needle and thread, :Now shall I have the demon's own time to thread it." "And," observes Mark Twain, "so he had. He did as men have always done, and probably always will do to the end of time – held the needle still and tried to thrust the thread through the eye, which is the opposite of a woman's way."

Three years later, in 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' (Chatto & Windus), p. 95, Mrs. Judith Loftus thus apostrophizes that precocious youth: 'Bless you, child, when you set out to thread a needle, don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it: hold the needle still and and poke the thread at it – that's the way a woman most always does: but a man always does t' other way."

This contradiction has puzzled me as much as the description of Mrs. Weller, in the 'Pickwick Papers,' as the immortal Sam's "mother-in-law."

As far as I can tell, neither Twain nor anyone else responded to this query.

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The simplest explanation is the following: one should not confuse a book's narrator with the biographical author, i.e. in this case, Mark Twain. Narrators can espouse views that are not shared by the author, even in the case of an omniscient narrator. From this point of view, the statements about threading the needle from both books don't even need to be reconciled, because narrators can be fallible or express things that aren't true.

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