Notes & Comments February 2011
On bowdlerizing the bard of Hannibal.
Would that Mark Twain were with us to comment on the latest effort to bowdlerize his work. Huckleberry Finn is universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece of American literature. Especially admired is Twain’s deployment of colloquial English: the banter between Huck and his friend Jim is a tour de force. Alas and alack, Twain, in writing about a moment in nineteenth-century Southern culture, neglected to consult the sensibilities of twenty-first-century politically correct churls for whom art should be “challenging” and “transgressive” just so long as it doesn’t challenge or transgress any current P.C. pieties. The piety Twain transgresses, of course, is racial: he repeatedly uses, as anyone in Huck’s position would have done, a coarse but common variant of the word “Negro.”
Horrors! William Burroughs’s paeans to homosexual pedophilia and drug abuse are dandy. You’ll find his Naked Lunch and a host of similarly repellent exercises in high-brow pornography assigned in curricula throughout the country. But the “n-word”? Heaven forfend. Into the fray step Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth books with a one-volume edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, scrubbed clean of the offensive word and intended for the academic market. What a travesty. It would, as we say, be delightful to hear Mark Twain on this outrage. It would be nice to have contributions from Juvenal, Jonathan Swift, and Evelyn Waugh as well.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 Number 6, on page 1
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