Huck Finn Stuff

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COPYRIGHT 1995 University of North Texas
What are we to do with a book which has the audacity, unapologetically dismissed as "old fashioned liberal humanism," to declare that the argument over the imputed racism of Samuel Langhorne Clemens is "urgently . . . unimportant"? Is every vital issue of hermeneutics, deconstruction, and relativism to be dismissed through this merely common sense criticism? Can a thoughtful scholar take the work of a once-benighted man on its own terms rather than those of the fictive strategies of race and gender? Tom Quirk reminds us, in one of the six essays that make up this slim volume, that Langston Hughes, with his character Jesse Semple, was often accused of backing into the future while looking firmly into the past. Tom's book - written as "Tom" in style and mood, not as "Professor Quirk" - seems like a throwback to the days of Brander Matthews, when criticism could be thoughtful speculation rather than closely documented dislocation. It is a strange experience, and an engaging one, in these days of hyperlinguistic critical flatulence to read plain English which sets out to be thoughtful and considerate of its subject, and, incidentally, to throw a few new insights upon it - never too heavy a burden for a much-belabored book like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

To read Coming to Grips with "Huckleberry Finn" is to take a few moments for a ramble inside the head of one of the nation's senior Mark Twain critics. Throughout, Tom Quirk is disarmingly honest. For starters, he admits that he has not introduced the new finds in the first half of the "Huck Finn" manuscript, now at the Buffalo Public Library, into essays that had been written previously, but argues that the general outlines of his essays remain the same, and his brief summary of the new findings in his introduction suggests the simple rightness of this approach. He is also candid about admitting his admiration for Huck Finn the book, not on the basis of its...