February 18, 2010

Huckleberry Finn delayed by vandalism

Charles Webster and Company released the American edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on February 18, 1885. The namesake of the company, Charles Webster, was the nephew by marriage of the book's author, Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens). The two were also business partners: Twain and Webster were co-owners of the doomed publishing house.

Huckleberry Finn was, in fact, already in print in Canada and England when the American edition came out. It was delayed in part because of an act of vandalism. In November 1884, Webster was informed that one of the illustrations had been tampered with, making a simple picture of the character Uncle Silas very obscene, thanks to exposed genitalia (the corrected version is to the right). Some copies had already been printed.

But that wasn't the first delay. Twain had struggled with the story for years (he began writing it as early as 1875), alternatively playing with it as a simple sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, or a pseudo-autobiography of Huck Finn from childhood to adulthood, and he occasionally scrapped the idea altogether (it was his friend William Dean Howells that urged him back to the project). Six years into its writing, Twain noted he was working "by fits and starts." A year later, he told his family of "a book which I have been fooling over for 7 years."

Within a month, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had sold 40,000 copies. It was only the second book published by Charles Webster — it was also the last to be profitable. The firm struggled for years, finally closing in 1894. Even so, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn lived on, becoming a standard (if not controversial) classic in American literature, sometimes hailed as the "Great American Novel" (whatever that means).

2 comments:

  1. What a funny fact. Do they know if the vandalism was purposely to delay the book or if it was just someone being immature?

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  2. I wish I could find more about it but, from what I've seen, there is no information on who did it or why. I'd love to see more research on this little tidbit!

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