Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Huckleberry Finn: An explanatory note from the author

On the first page of Huckleberry Finn:


IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.


But I’m sure Twain -- who took exquisite care to make sure his characters said exactly what he wanted them to say, in the way he wanted them to say it -- would have approved of a latter-day "Twain expert" substituting the word "slave" into the text 219 times, on the apparent assumption that his characters were trying to say something else and not succeeding.

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