Bowdlerising Twain

I am grateful to James O’Shea for spotting this article on the bowdlerisation of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

Readers of this column may recall that I included Huck Finn as number 21 in my list of the 100 Greatest Novels and discussed in the entry how Twain used the word “nigger” through the book. Now it transpires that an Alabama based publisher has decided that it would be better to reproduce the book with the offending word replaced by “slave” and to similarly replace the word “injun” to avoid hurting the sensibilities of those to whom these epithets were applied.

I see this as a wrong-headed move. It retrospectively imposes a set of values on a society that did not have them and thereby distorts the picture. To understand the south in the 19th century, as described by Twain, it is necessary to see and hear how it really was, not how it can be air-brushed to be. Good people, who opposed slavery, like Twain himself, used the word “nigger” just as much as people who used the word in a pejorative way. It was the word they had in their vocabulary.

For further discussion on this topic, see the attached article:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/05/huckleberry-finn-edition-censors-n-word

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