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Refining Huck Finn

September 03, 2003|Renee Tawa | Times Staff Writer

He wrote the "Huck Finn" manuscript on pieces of stationery and other loose sheets of paper, usually in bold, loopy strokes, using purple, black or blue ink.

When he finished writing the book, Twain declared that "modesty compels me to say it's a rattling good one," though the critical and public reception was mixed. Critics at the time attacked the book's irreverence, vulgar language and the moral failings of its characters. Others praised "Huck Finn" for its realism and applauded Huck's struggle with the issue of slavery.

According to Berkeley's team, nine months after the book's publication, Twain received a letter from James Fraser Gluck, a lawyer and curator for what now is the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Gluck asked if Twain might send any of his manuscripts to his library for preservation. Twain, who once lived in Buffalo, wrote back that he would send the second half of the "Huck Finn" manuscript, which was all he could find.

More than a year later, Twain apparently found the first half and asked his lawyer to forward the papers to Buffalo. It is unclear what happened next; scholars had assumed the papers were lost until news reports arose in early 1991 of a stunning development.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Mark Twain -- A Sept. 3 Calendar article on the release of a critical edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" incorrectly identified the title as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

One of Gluck's granddaughters, Barbara Gluck Testa, then a Hollywood librarian, had discovered the 665 missing manuscript pages in an old family trunk. After a long legal battle, the Gluck family heirs agreed to turn the papers over to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, in exchange for a share of any proceeds from publication. (The UC Press and the Mark Twain Project worked out an agreement giving them the authority to re-edit and publish the new "Huck Finn" text.)

Last month, the Buffalo library and its independent foundation unveiled a "Huck Finn" CD-ROM, produced in collaboration with scholars at the State University of New York, Buffalo. The multimedia edition also compares Twain's original manuscript with the first-edition text, and provides a social, cultural and historical context for "Huck Finn."

SUNY-Buffalo English professor Victor Doyno, a Twain expert who worked on the CD-ROM, was struck by "just how astonishingly careful [Twain] was, particularly on dialect. I would say there was a whole revision of the manuscript in pencil that was 90 or 95% dialect or sound [changes].... In those days, you see, a lot of people couldn't read, and books were expensive, so a lot of the tradition was that, if you had a family, to sit around the main room, and a father or a grandfather would read it aloud."

Doyno, author of the 1991 book "Writing Huck Finn: Mark Twain's Creative Process," is one of a handful of scholars who have handled every page of the original manuscript. Doyno tried to pick out the spots where Twain was on a roll as he wrote, "episode by episode, without really knowing how it's going to end." In those ink-smeared sections, Twain scribbled so furiously and intensely that the words ran together in a continuous script. "The pen never left the page," Doyno said.

The CD-ROM, along with Berkeley's latest work, is part of a slew of new Twain-related material, noted Shelley Fisher Fishkin, professor of English and director of American Studies at Stanford University. Fishkin, in fact, recently uncovered a forgotten Twain play in Berkeley's archives. In October, UC Press will publish the three-act comedy "Is He Dead?" with explanatory material by Fishkin.

"I have learned to never underestimate the new directions in which Mark Twain can take us," said Fishkin, editor of the 29-volume "Oxford Mark Twain." "He always proved himself to be ahead of the curve in terms of where the culture's interests are heading."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Twain's tweaks focused on voice

Mark Twain worked hard to perfect Huck Finn's young, breezy voice. With the discovery in 1990 of the long-lost first half of Twain's original manuscript, UC Berkeley editors and the editors at the Mark Twain Project have been able to track parts of his rewriting process for the first time. The following example provided by the Mark Twain Project is excerpted from Chapter 19:

Twain's first handwritten draft with his revisions:

Lordly, Lordy, its it is lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all sprinkled thick with stars, & we used to lay on our backs & look up at them, & discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened -- Jim he allowed they was made, a purpose but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could have laid them .... We used to watch the falling stars, too, & see them streak down the sky & trail their sparky tails behind them. Jim reckoned they had got spoiled & was flung out of the nest.

Twain's final version:

Lordy, it is It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all sprinkled thick speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened -- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could have a laid them .... We used to watch the falling stars, stars that fell, too, and see them streak down the sky and trail their sparky tails behind them. down. Jim reckoned they had allowed they'd got spoiled and was flung hove out of the nest.

For more information: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/MTP/ or

http://www.buffalolib.org/.

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