I read Pudd'nhead Wilson a long time ago, but I can still feel the swipe the end of Mark Twain's 1894 novel gave me.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is set in a fictional Missouri town in the first half of the 1800s. The book is a bit of a jumble, quite honestly, but it concerns a society bigoted and smug enough to brand a newcomer pudd'nhead entirely on the basis of a misunderstood remark; it also concerns a society bigoted enough to make the life-chances of a man with a single black great-great-great grandparent entirely different from one whose ancestry is historically white.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is partly a crime story, though it's more of a how-will-it-all-turn-out than a whodunit. It's about racial and social equality, but you can't necessarily spot the good guys by the colour of their ancestry or the quality of their qualifications.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is a book which encourages the reader to worry about some terrible people, and a comedy which fooled its own author by turning out to be a tragedy.
And just you wait for that cataclysmic last sentence: after that, your view of the world just might be changed forever.
Word To Use Today: pudding. This word was poding in the 1200s. Curiously, it might have something to do with the Low German puddek, a sausage - and, rather horribly, the Old English puduc, a wart.