Edited Mark Twain Novels Attempt to Rewrite History

Edited Mark Twain novels stir concern from Oklahomans

A University of Central Oklahoma professor and an Oklahoma historian agree a volume with edited versions of two Mark Twain novels is an attempt to rewrite history.

Source:  News OK, 1-7-11

A local English professor says he is outraged over new edited versions of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” due out in February.

The Mark Twain novels use the n-word 219 times in “Huck Finn” and four times in “Tom Sawyer.” In a new volume containing the two novels, Twain scholar Alan Gribben replaces the n-word with “slave” and “injun” with Indian.

“We have to respect the integrity of the author’s language,” University of Central Oklahoma professor John Springer said. “The author’s language is always a product of the historical moment and the social milieu in which the author lives.”

Springer, who teaches “Huckleberry Finn” once a year as an undergraduate course, said the use of the racial words is integral to the texts.

“To correct them or to modify them in the interest of current sensibilities … it really does, I think, constitute a kind of disavowal of history,” he said. “This is in fact the way we talked about people of color when those books were written.”

Springer is not alone in his objection to the new edition. Currie Ballard, a historian and assistant secretary to the state Senate, said any change to Twain’s writing would be a major error.

“You can bring about healing and understanding without warping or distorting history,” he said. “For all of a sudden, a hundred years after Mark Twain’s death, for us to try to sanitize history I think is wrong.”

Ballard, who was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame for his work in the preservation of black history, said editing the language of that day would leave the books historically inaccurate.

“I realize what their intent is, but it is such a powerful story that he told in ‘Tom Sawyer’ about trying to help a slave reach freedom,” he said.

“We can get so politically correct we become incorrect historically.”…READ MORE

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