Sunday, 9 January 2011

REFLECTIONS - New "Sanitized" Edition of Huckleberry Finn to be Published

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. Mark Twain at

Earlier this week, while delivering papers, I noticed a headline announcing a new "sanitized" edition of the classic "Huckleberry Finn" was in the works.  Then today, when we were driving to Lloydminster (the semi had to be taken to the repair shop and after dropping it off, John needed a ride home), I was listening to Cross Country Check-Up on CBC with Rex Murphy.  The topic for discussion was this new book and what people thought about it.  Murphy talked to Suzanne La Rosa, the publisher of the new edition, as well as various teachers, English professors, young people currently studying the book -- the whole gamut.

A few years ago, for my Father's birthday, we went to the Barn Playhouse near Saskatoon to watch a dramatic performance of "Huckleberry Finn."  As it was family-type entertainment, I hadn't really thought about the book as controversial.  At any rate, the latest media coverage makes me think I should order a copy from the local library and read this book, so I can better decide for myself whether the publication of this new volume is a good thing (as Martha Stewart would say) or a negative form of censorship.  Despite my Bachelor's degree in English, there are so many good books that I haven't actually read.  Maybe, once we have finished the trilogy of E. Nesbit books,  Alisdair and I should read "Huckleberry Finn" as one of our "read alouds." I might have read it years ago, but I honestly can't recall if I have actually done so.

What do you think? Is taking the n-word and other slurs out of Mark Twain censorship, or a step in the right direction in terms of getting younger people better acquainted with literature of the U.S. Civil War era? If you wish to do so, leave your thought in the comments.

I have copied (below) an article about the new edition of "Huckleberry Finn" from "The National Post":

New edition of Huckleberry Finn to replace ‘n-word’ with ‘slave’

Mark Twain, left, with his friend John Lewis in 1903.
Mark Twain, left, with his friend John Lewis in 1903.

  January 4, 2011 – 12:16 pm
Publishers Weekly reported on Monday that a soon to be released edition of Mark Twain’s classic of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, will replace all instances of the ‘n-word,’ “the singularly offensive word” used to refer to African Americans throughout the late 19th-century text. Editors have also decided to do away with the word “injun,” replacing it as well with “slave.”

NewSouth Books, who’ve been working with Twain scholar and Auburn University at Montgomery professor Alan Gribben, say they are taking the unprecedented measure as a means of reviving 21st century interest in the book, not as “an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” Gribben says. He also notes:
“Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century …
And after discussing his mother’s use of the slur during his youth, and his subsequent move to the U.S. South to raise a family, Gribben went on to say:
“My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”
The Publishers Weekly article went on to remark that the slur appears 219 times in the original Twain text, and that NewSouth’s publisher, Suzanne La Rosa, knew that the charge of censorship would crop up:
“We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there — all of them, in fact — that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.”
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition will be a US$24.95 hardcover, with the publisher aiming to have the book on on U.S. shelves by February.

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