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The Missing Huck And Jim

June 2024
1min read

ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

by Mark Twain , Random House, 418 pages, $25.00 . CODE: RAN-40

IN 1990 THE FIRST 665 ORIGINAL manuscript pages of Mark Twain’s great river novel were found wrapped up inside a steamer trunk in California, ninety-three years after they had disappeared. Twain had given them to a collector, James Fraser Gluck, and the rediscovery of these pages by Gluck’s granddaughter provoked a seventeen-month court battle over ownership.

The recovered bundle contained some scenes deleted from the printed version; on the first page, Twain’s opening evolves in his clear hand from “You will not know about me” to “You do not know” before settling on the line familiar to generations of readers: “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.” Such manuscript changes made to a mediocre novel would be of little interest, of course; the real purpose of this edition (which carries the original line illustrations) is to freshen the reader’s appreciation for Twain’s classic, which he began in 1876.

“Tearing along on a new book,” he wrote that summer. “It is Huck Finn’s autobiography.”

Huck’s raft partner, the escaped slave Jim, belonged in the original draft to the Widow Douglas, not to the nasty Miss Watson of the printed version; the change made the consequences of Jim’s capture more frightening. In this manuscript Jim delivers a long, unsettling monologue on visiting a cadaver—one of Twain’s better ghost stories. The episode was excised, as was the famous bragging “raftsman’s passage” (“Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!—and lay low, and hold your breath, for I’m about to turn myself loose!”), which, transplanted to Life on the Mississippi , became one of that book’s best-known sections. It may have been cut by Twain simply to keep Huckleberry Finn short enough to sell in a set with Tom Sawyer . Here is the artist at work, refining his separate dialects, even changing Huck’s line about hating school “like sin” because, as the Twain scholar Victor Doyno suggests in his fine notes, “sin” is not hateable for Huck. School is much worse than that.

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