New ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by the Mark Twain Project reflects recovered manuscript, original art, new research

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs



Berkeley Mark Twain scholars Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo are the editors of the latest edition of “Huckleberry Finn.”
Peg Skorpinski photo

11 July 2001 | Armed with the long lost first half of the original manuscript of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” editors at Berkeley are shining new light on lingering mysteries involving the American classic.

The only authoritative text based on the complete original manuscript of “Huckleberry Finn” hits bookstores this month. It is the product of painstaking research by the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library that began shortly after the manuscript’s first half was uncovered in a Hollywood attic in 1990.

The book rewards readers with new and ample information to help answer questions that have perplexed “Huckleberry Finn” fans and to present enough new ironies to intrigue them all over again.

“I think there’s a whole lot that’s new here,” said Lin Salamo, one of the book’s editors.

“Huckleberry Finn” is not just a humorous good story about a charming American bad boy from the idyllic pre-Civil War days, his friendship with a runaway slave and battles with his conscience. The book is considered Twain’s best work, as well as a compelling commentary of American race relations, class and violence that is as provocative today as when published in 1885.

The book’s popularity is evident from the more than 100 editions in more than 53 languages and its presence, not only in books around the world, but on CD, audiotape and as e-book.

“One hundred and fifteen years after its publication, critics and scholars are still scouring the book for what is real – for clues to the actual counterparts of its fiction — attempting somehow to grasp the essence of what it says about American history and culture,” editors of the latest “Huckleberry Finn” write in its foreword.

Editors Salamo and Victor Fischer, who worked with Harriet Elinor Smith and the late Walter Blair, have explored the original manuscript, scholarly critiques of the book, Twain’s notebooks, speeches, letters, essays and interviews. They compare and contrast them with popular songs and cultural practices, hymns, Biblical references, obituary poetry and even ad slogans of the era.

The layers and layers of information about Twain and the book are presented “not so you’re led by the hand, but so that you’re given the tools to make an interpretation,” said Fischer. “You can mine this novel for so much cultural and historical information that is still relevant today. And we can now answer questions that we never could before we had access to the entire manuscript.”

When did Twain, for example, really begin writing “Huckleberry Finn?” The answer: 1876. He handed over a final, typed manuscript to the typesetter in 1884.

By following his work on types of stationery that he used at different times, and tracing his writing medium as it ranged from black ink to purple and blue ink to pencil, the editors pinpointed the three periods during which Twain wrote various portions of the novel.

No, the editors concluded, Twain did not — as long thought — pigeonhole the manuscript after Chapter 16 and the steamboat crash. He actually wrote two more chapters, and then he did put the book aside — for about three years — and then again for another three years, taking seven years to finish it.

Editors of the book published by the University of California Press are excited to show side-by-side for the first time Twain’s earliest draft and his final revisions and to show how his most famous characters and story evolved. Each half of the manuscript contains more than 1,700 revisions by the author, with 88 percent of them reflected in word changes, spelling, punctuation and emphasis, the editors report.

“We have a database that analyzes every word he used,” said Salamo.


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