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"Kevin. Mac Donnell" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 17 Sep 2007 14:36:13 -0500
text/plain (51 lines)
> 1. When did the first instances of critical objections to Huckleberry Finn
> as a book with "racist overtones" or containing portrayals of African
>  that might be construed as demeaning or stereotypical?
> 2. What would be the relative cost of Huckleberry Finn if it were being
> today based on the costs in the Finn prospectus of $2.75, $3.25, and $4.25
> based on the binding a subscriber chose?
> Thanks in advance for any information you can supply to shed light on
> inquiries.
> Alan C. Reese

1. I don't recall any of the reviews in Lou Budd's THE CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS
accusing Twain of racism, and the widely quoted statements by Louisa May
Alcott and the Concord Free Library Board call the book "unfit" for youths,
or "trash" but don't mention racism. I seem to recall that a major black
writer (Booker T Washington? W E B DuBois?) praising HF shortly after
Twain's death. So, the racism charge may come rather late in the game --
perhaps the1950s?

2. There are two ways to approach this, which might yield slightly different
results. I think the factor for converting 1885 dollars into 2007 dollars is
16. You can simply mutliply to get a current dollar equivalent. The other
method, which seems more reasonable to me, is to examine the average price
for an American novel in 1885 ($1 or $1.50) and make comparisons relative to
the average cost of a new novel nowadays (x2 or x3 or x4 depending on the
binding). Either way, it's obvious Twain's books were not cheap. The idea
behind subscription books was to make the buyer think he was getting "more
book for the buck" so the types were large and widely spaced, with plenty of
"filler" like illustrations and white space, and flashy looking bindings
made from the cheapest materials. Some of Twain's own copies of his
subscription books are heavily marked with his calculations of words per
line, lines per page, amounts of filler material, and cost estimates of the
type-setting, printing, materials, and binding. He was extremely aware of
how much he earned per word, and how "big" a book needed to be. The
marketing materials and advertising for Twain's books also reflect this
emphasis on bulk. It also explains why Canadian pirates could produce cheap
editions of his works and sell them for prices comparable to other fiction
of the day. After Twain signed on with Harper Brothers, and they gradually
took over the publishing of his books between 1896 and 1903 (as copyrights
and contracts for each work came up for renewal), his books were priced the
same as other trade publications. See Twain's correspondence with his
publishers and Ham Hill's book on Twain & Elisha Bliss.

Kevin Mac Donnell