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David Tomlinson <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 19 Feb 1996 13:22:05 -0500
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     Graff, Gerald, and James Phelan (eds.).  _Adventures of
     Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy_.
     Boston and New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press,
     1995.  Pp. viii + 551.  Paper, 5-1/2" x 8-1/4".  $9.00.
     ISBN 0-312-1125-4.  Cloth.  $35.00.  ISBN 0-312-12261-6.

     Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

          David Tomlinson <[log in to unmask]>
          U. S. Naval Academy

     Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1996.  This review may not be
     published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

There is nothing new about a critical edition of _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_.  In 1961, Kenneth Lynn produced such a book titled
_Huckleberry Finn: Text, Source, and Criticism_.  It has been a durable
resource for teachers and students over the years; and _Books in Print_
still lists it, thirty-five years after it was first introduced.

An even more elegant critical edition, one edited by Hamlin Hill and
Walter Blair, appeared in 1962.  _The Art of Huckleberry Finn_ was
revised in 1969 and was one of those books I used regularly in my
first years of teaching. One colleague had already given the book
such a permanent place that he had his paperback version library-
bound.  When he retired, I inherited it.  This venerable book is,
alas, no longer available for classroom use, or I would be tempted
to use it still.

Later, the W. W. Norton Company decided that critical editions were a
good thing and popularized the form across the English curriculum,
giving us cheap but good collections of texts, source materials and
trenchant criticism.  Among the editions the company has issued is, of
course, one of _Huckleberry Finn_.  They too have mostly faded from
stock, leaving only the venerable Lynn production and one in the Unwin
Critical Library edited by Harold Beaver on the market.

There is an opening in the field, then, for a new entry.  Graff and
Phelan have stepped in to fill the gap.  They cannot claim that the idea
for such a book is a new one; but they do put a somewhat different slant
on their volume, advertising that it is a study in critical controversy.

Graff and Phelan's collection consists of an opening essay titled, "Why
Study Critical Controversy," the text of the 1885 edition of
_Huckleberry Finn_, a portfolio of seventeen Kemble pictures from the
first edition, and eighteen critical essays divided into three groups:
(1) the controversy over the ending, (2) the controversy over race and
(3) the controversy over gender and sexuality.

Both the pioneering critical editions in the field, that compiled by
Lynn and the one fielded by Hill and Blair, have relied on the 1885
edition of Twain's novel.  It is a good and proper thing to do.  Twain
approved the text, had it printed and distributed though the Charles
Webster Company, a company he created and controlled. Though he lived
twenty-five years after the first printing of the novel, Twain never saw
fit to make major changes to the text.

The various critical editions do differ in how they print that 1885
text, however.  The most satisfactory is the Hill-Blair rendition.  It is
a facsimile of the 1885 edition, putting pictures and text together as
they were then.  The Kenneth Lynn printing is the worst.  To save space,
the text is printed in double columns.  Even chapter titles receive
little space.  All in all, the feeling is one of being crowded
unmercifully.  The Graff and Phelan printing falls somewhere in between
the two others.  The text is printed in a single column that allows it to
breathe a little; but this is no re-creation of the first edition.
The seventeen pictures that Graff and Phelan reprint are assembled
in a gallery at the end of the novel rather than at appropriate places
in the text. I suspect the publishers, not the editors, made this
decision as they must have made the decision to introduce the
acknowledgments on page ii and continue them on page 551 to avoid the
expense of another two pages.  Because one of the critical essays, Earl
F. Briden's "Kemble's  Specialty' and the Pictorial Countertext of
_Huckleberry Finn_" calls upon the reader to look at the illustrations
for the Twain book, it would be doubly valuable to see those illustrations
as they appeared with the text.

None of the controversies that the editors choose are controversies
that worried nineteenth century audiences.  They spring from twentieth
century sensibilities.  Of these twentieth century concerns, the one
about the ending of the novel was the earliest to appear.  Indeed, of the
five essays the editors choose, four were printed either in the Hill and
Blair or in the Lynn volume from the 1960s.  The new addition is a piece
by Richard Hill that looks at the role a critical agenda can have in
shaping criticism.  He opines that Leo Marx is a critic who has allowed
his agenda to shape his view of the ending of _Huckleberry Finn_.
Indeed, that agenda has helped Marx to see things that are not in the
text.  Hill's call is for a criticism that does not overreach the text.
While the critic may, by disregarding the text, further his own
political aims, he does not, Hill avers, thereby deal justly with the
author or the text being considered.

The problem of overreaching the text arises again in the book's weakest
section, that on gender and sexuality.  The weakness manifests itself in
several ways.  First, half the section had to be newly written for this
edition, suggesting perhaps that the controversy does not exist in any
lively way in the community and so must be manufactured by the editors.
I do not mean to say that the essays that have been solicited for the
book are unworthy and therefore should never have been published.  Two of
the three may be valuable in fostering the pedagogical goals of building
interest and aiding the formation of critical principles.  In
his well-reasoned essay "Walker versus Jehlen versus Twain," Crews
roundly criticizes Myra Jehlen for majoring on a minor adventure in
_Finn_ and on misinterpreting much of even that minor event.  Nancy
Walker (to whom Crews gives a clean bill of critical health for her
admirable essay "Reformers and Young Maidens: Women and Virtue in
_Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_"), Myra Jehlen (who gets roundly
criticized for her essay "Reading Gender in _Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn_") and Crews himself are all engaged in dealing with Twain's text.
Their interchange is interesting and causes the reader to reflect on the
nature and rules of the critical enterprise.

The overreaching occurs in the two essays devoted to homosexuality.
Leslie Fiedler's "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" is well
known to students of Twain.  It has been around since 1948.  Students
have always read it, but critical anthologies have rarely printed it.
I suspect its exclusion has not so much to do with its thesis that Huck
and Jim's relationship might depend on unfulfilled homoerotic impulses
as on the fact that it does not support that thesis with solid textual
work.  There is also no support, textual or otherwise, given for
Fiedler's assertion that this homosexual impulse underlies all
black-white male bonding in American culture.  Enter Christopher Looby.
Virtually ignoring any relationship of Fiedler's thesis to _Huckleberry
Finn_, Looby sets out to offer the cultural evidence that Fielder failed
to give in 1948.  I must say that he does a fine job of introducing
anecdotal evidence; but what he does can hardly be called legitimate
literary criticism of the Twain work.

The relationship between black and white in _Huckleberry Finn_ has
occupied literary critics as much as the question of the relationship of
the races has occupied society at large.  Two sources have furnished
much of the best criticism on this issue: the _Mark Twain Journal_
(issues in 1984 and 1988) and _Satire or Evasion?  Black Perspectives
on Huckleberry Finn_ (ed. James S. Leonard et al., Durham: Duke
University Press, 1992).  Indeed, three of the seven essays in the
section come from these two places.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin's book _Was Huck Black?_ caused quite a stir in
1993.  The editors excerpt some of the best of her interesting and
careful work.  Her claims are modest, but the possibility of at least
some of Huck's speech being based on an unconscious use of the language
Twain had heard from "Sociable Jimmy" is certainly intriguing.

While Gerry Brenner's piece seems to rewrite _Huckleberry Finn_ --and in
doing so to distort the novel Twain wrote--James Phelan responsibly
points out where Brenner has gone astray and so makes reading the two
essays together an instructive and important part of the critical

Apparently, source criticism is too much out of fashion to be treated in
the text. I have frequently found that the excerpts from Twain's
autobiographical dictations, the excerpts from the _Sentimental Song
Book_ and the excerpts from Johnson's writing about Captain Simon Suggs
not only spark discussion in an undergraduate class but also that they
build appreciation for the kind of historical spadework on which good
literary theory can be built.

The Hill and Blair edition is not available, so I suspect I will use what
Graff and Phelan have given us, picking and choosing among the critical
articles, as most of us seem to do anyhow.

_Appendix to the book review_

Contents of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical

     Why Study Critical Controversies?

     Part One: Mark Twain and _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_

          The Life of Samuel Clemens and the Reception of _Huckleberry
          _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_:The 1885 Text
          A Portfolio of Illustrations from the 1885 Edition

     Part Two: A Case Study in Critical Controversy

          The Controversy over the Ending: Did Mark Twain Sell
          Jim Down the River?

               Lionel Trilling, "A Certain Formal Aptness"
               T. S. Eliot, "The Boy and the River: Without
                    Beginning or End"
               Leo Marx, "Mr. Eliot, Mr Trilling, and  _Huckleberry Finn"
               James M. Cox, "Attacks on the Ending and Twain's
                    Attack on Conscience"
               Richard Hill, "Overreaching: Critical Agenda and
                    the Ending of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_"

          The Controversy Over Race: Does _Huckleberry Finn_ Combat or
          Reinforce Racist Attitudes?

               Julius Lester, "Morality and _Adventures
                     of Huckleberry Finn_"
               Justin Kaplan, "Born to Trouble: One Hundred
                      Years of _Huckleberry Finn_"
               Peaches Henry, "The Struggle for Tolerance: Race
                    and Censorship in _Huckleberry Finn_"
               Earl F. Briden, "Kemble's  Specialty' and the
                     Pictorial Countertext of _Huckleberry   Finn_"
               Shelley Fisher Fishkin, "From _Was Huck Black?_"
               Gerry Brenner, "More than a Reader's Response: A
                    Letter to  De Ole True Huck'"
               James Phelan, "On the Nature and Status of
                   Covert Texts: A Reply to Gerry Brenner's  Letter
                    to "De Ole True Huck"'"

          The Controversy over Gender and Sexuality: Are Twain's
          Sexual Politics Progressive, Regressive, or Beside the

               Nancy A.Walker, "Reformers and Young Maidens:
                    Women and Virtue in _Adventures of Huckleberry
               Myra Jehlen, "Reading Gender in _Adventures of
                    Huckleberry Finn_"
               Frederick Crews, "Walker versus Jehlen versus
               Martha Woodmansee, "A Response to Frederick Crews"
               Leslie Fiedler, "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in,
                     Huck Honey!"
               Christopher Looby, " Innocent Homosexuality':
                     The Fiedler Thesis in Retrospect"