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Taylor Roberts <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 28 Jul 1992 23:32:04 EDT
text/plain (36 lines)
Thanks to David O. Tomlinson for letting us know the news about
Shelley Fisher Fishkin's recent claim that Twain used a real-life
black person as the model for the speech of Huck Finn.

I've read the New York Times article (7 July 1992) mentioned by
David, as well as Twain's "Sociable Jimmy" story in the 29 November
1874 Times.  I have a couple of questions:

1.   Twain prefaces his story with the comment that it came from a
     private letter he had written home several years earlier.  Has
     the original letter been identified, or does it not seem to be
     extant?  (I don't think this was stated in the 1992 Times

2.   My first impression was that "Jimmy" speaks more like HF's Jim
     rather than Huck.  However, I have to confess that I haven't
     read HF in a couple of years, whereas Fishkin is reported to
     have re-read it over twenty times for her research.  The NYT
     article says that Fishkin's argument for Jimmy as the
     linguistic source for Huck lies mainly in the following
     similarities: frequent repetition of words, frequent use of
     present participles, and the same grammatical "mistakes".
     Apparently there is some disagreement among scholars
     concerning Fishkin's proposal, and given only this evidence I
     would tend to be sceptical, too.

Does anyone know more about Fishkin's arguments?  Do you have any
opinions about her conclusion?  I know most of us are at a
disadvantage since we haven't seen Fishkin's book yet, but I'm
looking forward to its publication, and will be open-minded in the
interim.  An excellent side-effect of her research is that it
should squelch a few more HF book-burners....

Taylor Roberts