Amazon sales commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project,
University of California, Berkeley, CA.
The following review appeared 30 December 2008 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2008 Mark Twain Forum
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 343 is the latest edition in a set of reference books from Gale Research Company which first began the series in 1978. This volume devoted to Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is only one of a handful of these editions which are designated as a Documentary Volume and focus on a single work of an individual author. Other literary works in this series that have received such scrutiny include F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby; Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon; Bram Stoker's Dracula; and Ernest Hemingway's Farewell to Arms.
The word Dictionary in the title of this series of reference books as a whole is misleading. The series is not a dictionary in any traditional sense. These volumes are organized by topic, period, or genre to provide a biographical and bibliographical guide as opposed to a single alphabet entry method. The selection of Tom Quirk to edit such a reference book on Huckleberry Finn is the right choice for this project. He brings a solid reputation as an editor and wealth of knowledge as a Mark Twain scholar to the task at hand.
Quirk has written a brief introduction and a brief biography of Mark Twain and has compiled a very brief chronology of the composition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The volume is divided into four major sections devoted to "Background Sources" for Huckleberry Finn; "Composition and Illustration"; "Marketing and Reception" of the book; and finally the "Reputation" of Huckleberry Finn as it has evolved over the last one hundred and twenty-three years. The material found within these major sections consists of previously published journal articles, essays, and book chapters that have appeared over the last fifty years and which are reprinted here along with their original reference notes. Complementing all these sections are sidebars, texts of letters and facsimiles of letters, photos, maps, graphics, editorial cartoons, and facsimile reprints of a few of Mark Twain's working notes and manuscript pages.
The "Background Sources" section of the book is divided into several subsections including "Places and People" which feature passages from Dixon Wecter's Sam Clemens of Hannibal (1952). Also included in this subsection is a segment from Arthur G. Pettit's Mark Twain and the South (1974). Although Pettit perpetuates a fallacy that Twain referred to his character Jim as "Nigger Jim," Pettit's profiles of John Lewis (a farm worker from Elmira) and George Griffin (Mark Twain's butler) as inspirations for Jim are valuable insights into Twain's creative process. This subsection also features David Carkeet's "The Dialects in Huckleberry Finn" from American Literature (November 1979).
Also included in "Background Sources" is a subsection on "Incidents and Episodes" that likely influenced Twain's storylines. Edgar M. Branch's detailed research on "Newspaper Items as Sources for Huckleberry Finn" from Nineteenth-Century Fiction (March 1983) is reprinted here as well as an excerpt from Branch and Robert Hirst's The Grangerford-Shepherdson Feud by Mark Twain (1985). To illustrate Twain's usage of ideas borrowed from other Southwestern humorists, a segment from Johnson Jones Hooper's Some Adventures of Captain Suggs (1845) titled "The Captain Attends a Camp-Meeting" is reprinted. This segment is introduced as being the inspiration for Mark Twain's episode of the king at the Pokeville camp meeting in chapter 20 of Huckleberry Finn. Walter Blair's research on the "The Boggs Shooting" and its counterpart in the real life Hannibal shooting of Sam Smarr by William Owsley is reprinted from Mark Twain and Huck Finn (1960). Rounding out this section is James Ellis's essay from American Literature (1991) on "The Bawdy Humor of The King's Camelopard or The Royal Nonesuch." Ellis theorizes that the king's onstage antics in chapter 23 of Huckleberry Finn included a phallic pantomime that Mark Twain attempted to disguise.
The third subsection of "Background Sources" is devoted to literary influences. Twain's burlesques of Shakespeare are examined in an essay by Anthony J. Berret which originally appeared in American Literary Realism (1985). Alan Gribben examines how Huckleberry Finn stacks up against other works in the genre of "Boy Books" including Thomas Bailey Aldrich's The Story of a Bad Boy (1869). Gribben concludes, "Mark Twain set out to write another conventional Boy Book but his experiences and reading -- and above all, his literary imagination -- got the better of him, and the book veered away from generic formulas to become something even more vital and inspiring -- a combination of voice and place and event that has moved and challenged writers and readers ever since" (p. 90). Gribben's essay originally appeared in South Central Review (Winter 1988). Walter Blair's essay from 1957 Modern Philology examines the literary influences of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens on Huckleberry Finn. Lucinda MacKethan presents evidence that Twain was influenced by slave narratives published in the 1840s and 1850s including those written by William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass and James Pennington. MacKethan's essay is reprinted from The Southern Review (April 1984). The final essay in this section is from Howard Baetzhold's Mark Twain and John Bull (1970) which examines the influences of William Lecky, Thomas Paine, Charles Darwin and Edward FitzGerald on Twain's story.
The second major section of Volume 343 is devoted to "Composition and Illustration." Quirk has revised his own 1990 essay that appeared in Writing the American Classics (1990) to take into account the October 1990 discovery of the long-lost portion of the original manuscript of Huckleberry Finn. Quirk writes that his revised essay "builds especially on the work of Walter Blair. It also benefited enormously from the published work of and conversation with Victor Fischer, who is the editor of the revised edition of the novel published in 2003 by the University of California Press" (p. 112). Quirk offers an inventory of the most significant revelations that came forth with the discovery of the missing manuscript. Also discussed in this section are the excised episodes that never appeared in the first edition of the book, including the raft episode which was published in Life on the Mississippi (1883) and Jim's ghost story which was first published in 1995 in The New Yorker.
Michael Patrick Hearn's essay from American Book Collector (1981) on Mark Twain and illustrator E. W. Kemble provides background and biographical information on the man chosen to illustrate Huckleberry Finn. Louis Budd's "A Nobler Roman Aspect" of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn examines the motives behind the use of the portrait of Karl Gerhardt's bust of Mark Twain as a frontispiece for the book. Budd's essay originally appeared in One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn (1985).
The final subsection under "Composition and Illustration" is titled "The Further Adventures of Huck Finn." An essay by Claude M. Simpson, Jr. discusses the role Huck played in Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894); Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896); and unfinished fragments, stories and novellas not published in Twain's lifetime. These include "Doughface," "Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians," "Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy," Tom Sawyer's Gang Plans a Naval Battle," "Schoolhouse Hill," and a lost manuscript from 1902 which brought back Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as old men. Simpson concludes that although Mark Twain "never ceased to see the value of Huck as an outsider and foil, he was primarily concerned with Huck's narrative voice rather than the full range of the youth's personality. By not creating opportunities for Huck to continue to reveal himself in all his ironic depths, Twain misjudged the essence of his greatest book and sacrificed opportunities he may never have been aware of" (p. 188). Simpson's essay originally appeared in American Humor: Essays Presented to John C. Gerber (1977).
The third major section of this volume is titled "Marketing and Reception" and includes a discussion of subscription book marketing, Mark Twain's lecture tour in 1884-1885 with George Washington Cable, and the prepublication of passages from the novel in Century Magazine. Portions of Victor Fischer's essay from American Literary Realism (Spring 1983) titled "Huck Finn Reviewed" spell out the complications that accompanied the book's debut. These included publicity about a defaced illustration which resulted in an obscene graphic that appeared in early samples of the book; a lawsuit with Estes & Lauriat book dealers; a ban on the book from the Concord Library; and Mark Twain's overall attempts to "stage-manage" the book's reception and its reviewers. About two dozen contemporary reviews are reprinted. One of the earliest reviews appeared in the British journal The Athenaeum (December 1884) and is believed to have been written by poet and critic William Ernest Henley. Henley wrote a glowing review of Huck and his adventures stating, "With Jim he goes south down the river, and is the hero of such scrapes and experiences as make your mouth water (if you have ever been a boy) to read them" (p. 215). Not all reviews were filled with praise. A reviewer for the Boston Evening Traveller wrote: "It is doubtful if the edition could be disposed of to people of average intellect at anything short of the point of the bayonet" (p. 226). This section concludes with a summation from Victor Fischer's essay pointing out that within six years, by the time the second edition appeared in 1891, it had been proclaimed a "masterpiece."
The final section of Volume 343 examines the "Reputation" of Huckleberry Finn. In an essay by Louis J. Budd from Missouri Review (1987) titled "The Recomposition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Budd discusses today's ongoing controversy over the racial elements of the novel; its worldwide popularity; its entrance into American culture; and how the book has come to be regarded as a "classic." Tom Quirk contributes another essay titled "Huckleberry Finn's Heirs" which explores Twain's "literary bequest" to other writers including Ring Lardner, Willa Cather, and Langston Hughes. Quirk also presents responses to Twain's novel by writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Sherwood Anderson. Quirk's essay is a reprint from his earlier contribution to Coming to Grips with Huckleberry Finn (1993). This section also includes a number of stand-alone quotes from other literary figures regarding Huckleberry Finn. These include comments from William Dean Howells, George Bernard Shaw, H. L. Mencken, W. Somerset Maugham, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, Herman Wouk, William Styron, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer and Toni Morrison.
The final subsection under "Reputation" is titled "African American Critics on Huckleberry Finn." This section is introduced with the explanation that after the U. S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Twain's novel was taught in desegregated classrooms and inevitable charges of racism followed. In 1957 the New York City Board of Education removed the book from the list of approved texts for schools. The racial issue is one that continues to arise today in classrooms across the country. One defense often voiced is that the book "is not racist, but the literary sophistication required to discern Mark Twain's true intent is quite above the capacities of junior high school, or even high school students, white or black" (p. 285). The final essays in this section are opinions by African American teachers, literary scholars and historians. Most of these essays are reprinted from Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn (1992). There is no consensus of opinion among these contributors on how to best deal with the issues and controversy that often surround the novel.
The final one hundred pages are devoted to what the publishers describe as a "Cumulative Index." It is an index of mostly proper names that have appeared in the previous 342 volumes in this reference book series plus the current Volume 343. As such, the "Cumulative Index" does not include entries for most of the information pertinent to the volume at hand. Almost none of the people whose names appear in Volume 343 are listed in the "Cumulative Index." The lack of indexing for Volume 343 itself leaves many readers and students without the necessary tool needed to take full advantage of the information presented.
Some of the most useful information in the end material of Dictionary
of Literary Biography, Volume 343: Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn: A Documentary Volume will be the extensive bibliography of "Works
about Mark Twain and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The most
likely purchasers of this volume will be school libraries that have collected
previous editions of this series. Many Mark Twain scholars and researchers
will probably have already purchased many of the books and acquired the journal
articles from which this volume draws its material. For those who have not,
this volume packages the most pertinent information from many previous publications
into one useful resource. The book is a tribute to Tom Quirk's knowledge of
Mark Twain scholarship over the last half century.