Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Edited by Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo. The Mark Twain Library Edition. University of California Press, 2001. Pp. 588. Softcover, 5 3/8 x 8 1/2, 218 illustrations, 5 maps. $14.95. ISBN 0-520-22838-3. Also available in hardcover. $45.00. ISBN 0-520-22806-5.
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The following review appeared 2 May 2002 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2002 Mark Twain Forum
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Can a book really be judged by its cover? The two most recent editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (both featuring new material found in the first half of the original manuscript, discovered in 1990) certainly present a contrast at first glance. There is Michael Patrick Hearn's latest annotated edition published by Norton (2001) with its richly attractive cover with raised print, a patina-like green with wonderfully colored reproductions of Edward Kemble's illustrations of Huck, Jim, and Miss Watson. And it is a heavy and large (nearly 9" x 11") hardbound book, with excellent quality paper. Very glitzy, indeed, as far as annotated editions go.
The second text covered in this review is the paperback edition (there is a hard cover edition as well), published by University of California Press (2001) and edited by Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo, editors at the Mark Twain Project of The Bancroft Library. This is The Mark Twain Library edition, or reading edition, and looks like many standard paperbacks: about 6" x 9" with a rather plain cover that has a border of black, and an ivory background over which the name of book, Twain's name, and the words "The Only Authoritative Text" appear (more about this later.) The only "glitzy" part of this book's cover is Kemble's woodcut of Jim and Huck that leads off chapter 12 of the novel.
The Mark Twain Library edition, edited by Fischer and Salamo, precedes the scholarly edition (The Works of Mark Twain edition) which is scheduled to appear later in 2002. This is important to note as this reader's edition does not call attention to, list, or otherwise identify all of the hundreds of changes in the text that resulted from Twain's intentions, as contrasted between the text found in the original first half of the manuscript and what was actually published. These issues will be discussed in detail in the upcoming scholarly edition.
If glitzy is what you are after, then hands down the Hearn book is going to be your choice. But we all know that a book's ultimate value as an annotated text has nothing to do with its looks, and so we must strip away the covers, forget about the quality of paper in each, and go for the heart of the matter: which edition, after all, is better for the reader trying to really understand Twain's mind and intent in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
We begin with what is commonplace in all annotated texts nowadays: The introduction to the annotated text. In the Hearn text, it is at times overpowering--153 pages! Certainly thorough in showing the history and development of the novel, it is a wandering trip through most of Twain's relatives, Olivia's influence on his writing (and Twain's reaction to it), the financial decisions involved in publishing the novel, Kemble's involvement in the novel, Twain's and others' efforts at marketing the novel, reactions to the novel's publication, Twain's further literary efforts to capitalize on Huckleberry Finn, the impact of the novel on Americana (both while Twain was alive and after his death), and a dissection of the novel. This is not an introduction for the faint-hearted or time-pressed scholar.
Hearn certainly has made an attempt at thoroughness, but sometimes I found it an introduction with the kitchen sink thrown in as well. The illustrations are excellent and range from illustrations of Twain's colleagues, caricatures, a stereoscope card, a photo of illustrator Edward W. Kemble, ephemera, sheet music covers, and numerous other photos. Information about Twain's marketing of the novel (both pre- and post-publication) with an eye to the bottom line was extremely well written and fascinating. Hearn's report on the reaction to the novel's publication was also well executed. Yet I found that the biographical information at times wandered too far; and that the dissection of the novel (with an emphasis on the criticism of the novel as being "as formless as the mighty Mississippi itself") would be better left for a separate text or should have been included in an expanded stand-alone "Introduction, Part II."
The introduction to the Fischer and Salamo text is a blink of the eye in comparison--only nine pages. The Foreword in the Fischer and Salamo edition contains some information never before published, like the dedication Mark Twain wrote and then decided not to publish (p. xix). There is also the revelation that the infamous "Notice" signed "Per G. G., Chief of Ordinance" most likely referred to the Clemens's butler George Griffin. Here we also get a brief discussion of Huck's voice, the humor of the novel, and its place in American literature told through several long quotes by well-known writers. This a wise approach, but I must admit to being drawn into the Hearn introduction, if only because of the balance it presents of Twain the businessman and 19th Century America not being ready for this novel by Twain the literary genius.
Next to be considered is how each text handles the "missing" passages--those passages found in the first half of the manuscript that either had not previously appeared in any Huckleberry Finn edition or were sometimes included in a shortened form. Of these, there are three that have elicited the most scrutiny, speculation, and critical commentary: Jim's "Ghost Story" (Chapter 9); the Raftsmen's passage (Chapter 16); and the Camp Meeting passage (Chapter 20). It is interesting to note how the Hearn and University of California edition edited by Fischer and Salamo editions differ on their handling of these three passages:
Jim's "Ghost Story" passage--Both editions include this passage in appendix form, and each includes many annotations. The Hearn edition identifies it as "Jim and the Dead Man" (p. 447). The Fischer and Salamo edition identifies it as Jim's "Ghost Story" (p. 463). What I especially like about the Fischer and Salamo edition is that there is an introduction to the passage (where the material might have come from, why Twain wrote it, and why he might have left it out of the published text), as well as showing Twain's revisions of the passage, with his first or second choice, and then the final choice included in the passage. There are also two reproduced photos of the original manuscript, one showing the beginning of the passage--the other showing Twain's revisions of Jim's dialect. A definite plus for the Fischer and Salamo edition.
Raftsmen's passage--This passage presents a major contrast between the two editions. Hearn selects to leave it out of the novel's text but includes it in Appendix B along with the original illustrations by John Harley that appeared with the text when Twain published it in Life on the Mississippi. Hearn gives a nice explanation as to why the passage was originally left out of the published work and some additional history on the passage. Fischer and Salamo include the passage within the novel's text along with the Harley illustrations. A reader not familiar with the history of the passage would not realize the text was never included in the original first edition unless he or she consults the annotations at the back of the book where Fisher and Salamo discuss the history of the Raftsmen's passage in their extensive annotations.
Pokeville Camp Meeting passage--Of the three, this offers the most complex differences between the two editions. In Hearn's work he includes the passage as it was published, opting to include the original manuscript differences in the annotations. I found this to be clumsy at times, for there are so many annotations that I often had to turn two or three pages ahead to read them, then turn back again to continue reading the novel. What was also interesting: while the Camp Meeting passage is recognized as one of the major "new passages" from the first half of the manuscript (due to the extensive differences between the manuscript version and the published version), Hearn makes no special note of this, and thus the reader would not know of this passage's special importance through his annotations.
In the Fischer and Salamo edition, the Pokeville Camp Meeting passage is truly showcased for the reader. First, it appears in a special section at the end of their work, entitled "Three Passages from the Manuscript." Here, as in Jim's "Ghost Story" passage, there is an introduction, followed by Twain's revisions of the passage, with his first or second choice, and then the final choice included in the passage. These are presented with the original manuscript text (and its revisions) on the left side of the book, and the published page or final proof (with final revisions) on the right side. There are also two photos of pages from the original manuscript. Another definite plus for Fischer and Salamo.
An additional passage from the manuscript in the Fischer and Salamo edition that is extensively discussed in a special section at the end of the book deals with a revised passage from Chapter 19 wherein "Huck Describes Sunrise on the River." A careful comparison of various layers of revised text illustrates how Twain struggled to obtain what has been described as a "truly vernacular style."
Finally, we come to the many annotations presented throughout each text. Hearn wastes no time in giving us these, with 227 presented in the introduction alone! As noted above, the introduction is uneven, and with so many annotations to the introduction one must be prepared to spend at least a morning or afternoon for a complete reading. In the Fisher and Salamo text there are no annotations to the nine-page introduction.
Now I will admit to liking the wealth of annotations that Hearn includes in his edition. I've lost count as to the various editions of Huckleberry Finn I've read, yet this easily contains the most background information I've seen. With this said, I quickly add that one area I would have liked to have seen more of is in the actual writing of the novel--what Victor Doyno's Writing Huck Finn (1991) focuses on. To the credit of Fischer and Salamo, they add 32 pages of manuscript revisions and thoughts on same at the end of their text. As Twain was known for his diligent and nearly maniacal attention to word and phrase detail, it is curious that Hearn for the most part overlooks this. The Fischer and Salamo text also contains notes on the ownership issue of the first half of the manuscript, the textual composition and illustrations, manuscript facsimiles, maps (for a better understanding of where events in the novel take place), and a glossary.
What perhaps is the greatest visual difference between these two texts is in the manner the annotations are presented. Hearn gives his in a split text manner (i.e., the novel continues on one half of the page, with the annotations in the other half,--the only exception being in the middle of or at the end of some chapters when the annotations are so many that they run beyond the end of a page or the chapter and thus take up full pages. The Fischer and Salamo annotations are presented by page number and line number in one section at the end of the book. As a scholar, I enjoyed Hearn's "live time" annotations, as I did not need to continually thumb to the back of the text to look up an annotation. And it did away with my having to wonder whether there WAS an annotation that went with a certain passage--if not, I could read uninterrupted, concentrating on the novel.
However, the Hearn approach to annotations does present a problem for me, and I suspect it would to others who also teach the novel. I like my students to discover ideas and possibilities and historical contexts on their own as much as possible before I have them "get the scoop" through the annotations. This is impossible with Hearn's approach, as the student cannot help but see, and thus read, the annotation right next to the text of the novel.
Of course, he or she who uses either or both books in the classroom will no doubt raise the question: is there much change over previous editions as a result of the discovery of the first half of the Huckleberry Finn manuscript? In a word--Yes. In the Fischer and Salamo text, it departs from the previous University of California (1985) text nearly 100 times in its wording and nearly 1,100 times in its spelling, punctuation, and other details. Additionally, the annotations have been markedly revised. Always warmly received in the classroom, this University of California edition glows even brighter now.
As for Hearn, many of the annotations that appeared in his first edition (1981)--an edition "roundly criticized for the large number of inaccurate and misleading annotations" have been corrected, revised, and/or expanded, this resulting (as with the Fisher and Salamo edition) from the availability of new Twain material (including letters) and added history of the manuscript, as well as an increase in the banning of the novel. While Hearn sometimes overwhelms the reader with his annotations, there is much new material, and even the previously published annotations are at times given new meaning or illumination when contrasted against other new annotations--a nice bonus at times, indeed.
To be certain, one can find fault with some of Hearn's annotations. Given the breadth and quantity of them, this is to be expected. For example, one can argue that at times Hearn does not always give primary sources for his annotations or that his illustrations of water craft are of an inappropriate time frame. (Hearn insists these are not errors but rather can be acceptable as there is no definitive date as to when Huckleberry Finn takes place, and thus the steamboat illustrations may certainly be true to the time span of the novel.)
But I must ask the question: with all the information provided by Hearn, does a slippage here or there lessen the thoroughness of his work? The answer is no. It is only when these flaws become so many in nature, or of such significance as to mar their intended purpose, that a loud protest must be made. In my opinion, such instances do not occur in Hearn's text. As with any author, it is hoped that through the "uh-ohs" discovered after publication of a new edition, and input from readers, these minor errors will be corrected in future editions.
As for "The Only Authoritative Text" that appears on the Fischer and Salamo cover, it is just that. The University of Californian edition edited by Fisher and Salamo is the only text to rely exhaustively on the available documentary evidence (not limited to original manuscript alone, but also including changes Twain made on the typescript he sent to the printers) to ascertain, at every point, how Mark Twain wanted his text to read, not just in words but also in its punctuation, spelling, and emphasis on words. Hearn does not go this far--his text being essentially a reprint of the first American edition (1885).
The Fisher and Salamo text contains hundreds of words and other minor details that Twain wanted his text to contain, but which were not included in what he published, or for that matter what anyone else has published, including Hearn, the Random House edition edited by Victor Doyno (1996), or the previous University of California 1985 or 1988 texts (from which the Fischer and Salamo text departs in at least 100 words and 1,000 lesser details).
Hearn makes few attempts to alter the text of Huckleberry Finn so that it adheres to Twain's intentions, even when he has good evidence that the text he prints is in error. For instance, on p. 132, note. 7, Hearn says "Blair and Fisher persuasively argued in the 1988 University of California edition that the typist skipped two sentences that should be here." Hearn then quotes the missing sentences in his note, but leaves the actual text unchanged from the way it appeared in the first edition.
Hearn acknowledges utilizing the Fischer and Salamo edition (in its proof form) for many of the changes throughout his own book. The result of this "coming through the back door" by Hearn is that his edition benefits greatly from the primary research that went into and is published in the Fisher and Salamo edition.
Ultimately, a decision on which text is the better cannot be based upon a cover.
As often is the case when two (or more) annotated texts of the same novel are
published fairly close together, each will get more attention for the strengths
and weaknesses of the other. I am glad for this as it allows more pressure on
the editors to get their texts better the next time around. If not, we just
might end up selecting one on the strength of its cover. But then Twain the
businessman would probably love that.