Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

William Faulkner called Mark Twain “the father of American literature”.  His experiences found their way into the novels that he wrote and his experiences were wide, varied and venturesome. With humor and a homespun style, Twain gives us glimpses into times gone by and a host of memorable characters that have become a part of American life.

Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri in November of 1835, Mark Twain is one of the most well-known American writers, humorists, satirists and lecturers in the United States’ literary history.  As a young man, Mark Twain was adventurous and gregarious. After completing an apprenticeship as a typesetter and writer in St. Louis, he followed a dream to become a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River.  He was licensed as a pilot in 1858 but left that role in 1861 when the Civil War brought river trade to a halt.  

He tested various pen names during his early writing career, but settled on “Mark Twain”. Various theories exist about why Clemens chose this nom de plume. There were some people who have suggested that “mark twain” was the name that Clemens left on a running bar tab at John Piper’s saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, but Clemens himself declared that he had picked the handle up from a Captain Isaiah Sellers.  Sellers had frequently published brief little paragraphs about river news and information in the New Orleans Picayune which he signed with “Mark Twain”.  After Captain Sellers’ death, Clemens thought that using the name was fair game, and so he adopted it as his pen name.

Mark Twain spent most of his growing up years in Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi and it became a setting for two of his most famous works -  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Referred to as “The Great American Novel” and classified in the genre of “satirical novel”,  Huckleberry Finn was first published in the UK in December of 1884 and in the US in January 1885.  One of Huckleberry Finn’s most interesting features is its language, which is carefully crafted in vernacular English and characterized by local color regionalism.  We hear Huck’s story from himself and he gives his own perspective from the time period of the Antebellum South.

“The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been widely studied by critics and Mark Twain fans for over 130 years but no matter when the time period, it has remained controversial – whether for its coarse language or its racial stereotypes and slurs.  Even though the protagonist along with the general bent of the novel are anti-racist, it is nonetheless difficult for the present day reader to encounter words and messages that make us continually aware as we read that our nation has come along way, but has even farther to go. 

“Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In 1909 Mark Twain commented that he “came in with Hailey’s Comet in 1835 and would go out with it”.  Indeed, Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910… one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is the first read in our new reading plan, A Southern Study
You have plenty of time to start reading to discuss over a Winter Book Brunch to take place on Saturday, January 16th, 2016.