Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Redacting Huck's Use of the Words "Nigger" and "Injun"

Below is a copy of an email that I sent to Dr. Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University at Montgomery. According to the news story which is linked at the end of my email, Dr. Gribben is responsible for a rather callous and inexcusable "edition" of a novel Mark Twain never wrote, but which is going out under the title of one of his works. This is an academic disgrace so far as I have anything to say about it, and I let Dr. Gribben know what I thought of his activities. If you are also concerned, his email is agribben@aum.edu. For more details and information on the publisher that would put this sort of thing into print, see this article.


4 January 2011
Dear Dr. Gribben,




I'm sure you must have had what you thought were good intentions when you decided to be a part of a project to "update" Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but how in god's name could fundamentally changing the diction and dialogue of the novel at all be appropriate to a scholar such as yourself? Instead of limiting your hand in presenting the novel in, say, a thoughtful and engaging introduction that would seek to explain Mark Twain's time and place, and Mr. Clemens's own views on the great issues of his day, you have decided to alter his original text in some misguided effort to make his story more acceptable to modern audiences who hear far worse in music and see far worse on television on a regular basis than Mark Twain ever wrote in any of his wonderful and nuanced fiction and non-fiction works. Would you advocate that some Dumas scholar come along and "update" The Count of Monte Cristo so that the Count was less vengeful since in the modern world, holding murderous grudges is frowned upon? Would it be appropriate to "update" James Fenimore Cooper so that his novels are not so patronizing to the American Indians? What about any literature that offends any modern sensibility on any topic? Should we eliminate scenes? Characters? Good lord, what would you have done to Uncle Tom's Cabin in the name of "updating" it? As a professional scholar, sir, your duty does not lay in "updating" the primary source material which you analyze and study. Mark Twain's works were not produced in our time or for timid and uninformed readers, that's what makes reading them so damn interesting. The language jars and sometimes offends our ears. GOOD! That's the point of communing with great works whether from 19th century America or classical Athens or medieval Japan. Altering Twain's work so that a mob of philistines might have an epiphany and change their reactionary position on reading a harmless and wonderful piece of literature is beyond craven, it is a fundamentally cowardly act of betrayal to the academy and all that makes it great. This is why people point at academics and shake their heads with incredulity. You have made the jobs of your fellow academics in communicating with the general public that much more difficult. And for what? So that those too lazy to learn the historical context surrounding the novel can read without offending their fragile psyches? I was taught by many great English teachers that the language authors chose and used was important, deliberate, and informative. It helps readers discern intent, time, theme, context, and a host of other things that help us to understand and appreciate literature. How could altering the deliberately written text of a classic novel add anything at all to understanding? This is beyond the abomination of abridgement, this is you stepping into the midst of the novel and attempting to "improve" it for some half-baked notion and constituency (I mean this almost literally) If the story surrounding what you've done is inaccurate, please correct the record for me, because as it stands, this is one of the worst things I have read about in the field of English in some time, and that's saying a lot. Found here.

My regards,

Alexander Marriott

Ph.D Candidate, American History

Clark University


For a scholarly and non-bastardized edition of this fine novel:

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