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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Paperback – November 18, 2013
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About the Author
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called "the Great American Novel." Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which provided the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. After an apprenticeship with a printer, he worked as a typesetter and contributed articles to the newspaper of his older brother Orion Clemens. He later became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before heading west to join Orion in Nevada. He referred humorously to his singular lack of success at mining, turning to journalism for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. In 1865, his humorous story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," was published, based on a story he heard at Angels Hotel in Angels Camp California where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention, and was even translated into classic Greek. His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. Though Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he invested in ventures that lost a great deal of money, notably the Paige Compositor, which failed because of its complexity and imprecision. In the wake of these financial setbacks, he filed for protection from his creditors via bankruptcy, and with the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually overcame his financial troubles. Twain chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, though he had no legal responsibility to do so. Twain was born shortly after a visit by Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it," too. He died the day following the comet's subsequent return. He was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age," and William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature."
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The appeal of the book, particularly its 'story' for the average contemporary reader will be somewhat less. We might find the humor to be a bit 'rough and rustic.' Readers in Twain's lifetime made a similar complaint. 'Coarse' things like death, murder, mutilation and the like are plainly spoken of by and/or in front of a boy who is not yet an adolescent. Some times the humor is a bit 'rough and ready.' Twain, himself, is a product of his early experiences near or on the American Frontier.
Given that this is a major work in our literary history, what does an 'annotated edition' offer? The editor, Michael Patrick Hearn is generally cited as the foremost Twain scholar of his generation. He begins by offering a major body of information about Twain's life, his work as an author and lecturer, his trials and tribulations in bringing 'Huckleberry Finn' to the public, critical reaction to the work and so on. An 'appreciation' is offered of the work and its place in American Literature. This is only fitting and proper for this type of scholarly edition. It is done to my satisfaction and the result will be more than helpful to serious students of the book. A vast range of resources has been brought to bear in the annotations, including alternate texts of passages where they can be found in Twain's copious notes and draft manuscripts. Anyone who doubts that 'writing is work' will soon be disabused if they peruse these annotations, which appear close to the relevant passages in the text. Very generous attention is given to the illustrations provided with two major editions of the work, including other illustrations from Tom Sawyer. These illustrations were offered by two artists, one picked by Twain and the second one an artist Twain came to respect the more he looked at the work.
So why 'only' four stars? Even with some interest in the book, I was almost overcome by the information added to the text of the novel. Some of the annotations seemed to be less essential than others and might have been excluded without 'harm.' Mr. Hearn has gone the extra mile to be 'comprehensive' in documenting comments on the novel and in providing explanations of vernacular words or bits of cultural background from the time.