I’m going to guess that most readers of this blog will already know about the hubbub surrounding the new version of Huck Finn censoring all words deemed racist in nature.
I’d like to say that Twain, if he were alive, would smack his head at their idiocy and tell them all to go fuck themselves. (Sorry, I don’t censor). But Twain was well-versed in censors and exactly how to deal with them. Twain liked to tweak people’s noses. He did so purposely and by accident. This novel in particular garnered quite a bit of venom in its day. Here’s what Twain had to say about it in a letter to his editor, shortly after the novel’s original publication:
"The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass., have given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country. They have expelled Huck from their library as 'trash and suitable only for the slums.' That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure."
Of course, in the time it was released the novel was censored for the opposite reason – how’s that for irony? The thing with this that irritates me is not so much that the word offends people; it was supposed to offend people. His intention was to offend people. Twain took great pains with his words. It’s well-documented that his manner of reproducing dialect and verbiage was precise to the point of near perfection. The man read every single word out loud, every single revision until each character and voice sounded exactly right to his ear. Is anyone really under the delusion that he would use the word, “nigger” more than 200 times by accident? Mind you, he used the same word in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – 4 times.
It’s not a far stretch to understand he was making a point and he was doing so by purposely getting in the reader’s face. What I think is underestimated on a personal level is that this stance was brave for the author during this time period.
I think that should be honored rather than swept under the carpet. And by people who are using his exact ethical position – and whose ancestors, by all statistical likelihood, were not as highly evolved morally during its first printing.
I think literature should be read in the form it is written in any and all ways readers can scrutinize it. Like most cases of censoring, I have to believe that most people who have a problem with Twain’s prose have either never read or cannot understand the prose. There are a great many works of fiction (and non-fiction for that matter) that I disagree with… that doesn’t mean I won’t read them. It doesn’t mean I keep my children from reading them – in fact, disagreeing with a sentiment in literature is one of the greatest jumping off points for honest discussion I can think of.
I won’t be buying a copy that’s been censored. And I have to wonder whether there would even be a discussion about this if the author wasn’t a dead white guy… which makes me wonder who the real racist is in this scenario.
(psst: the Pitch Critiques are still open if you’re interested.)