Huckleberry Finn

Two sisters came bearing birthday gifts for Jackie today; first Shelly this morning; then Elizabeth this afternoon – also bringing scones, butter, and jam.

We enjoyed convivial conversations.

Between visits I finished reading and scanning the illustrations to Mark Twain’s iconic novel.

After dining on Ashleigh’s fish and chips; Heinz baked beans; Mrs Elswoods’s pickled gherkins; and Garner’s pickled onions, I reviewed the book, of which this is the illustrated title page:

In a journey with his older friend Jim along the Mississippi River, itself a major character in the book, Huck Finn spends every effort to carry the runaway slave to freedom. Both man and boy seek freedom, peace, and comfort. Huck has been adopted by a woman wishing to convert him from his carefree lifestyle to a more traditional middle class one; the “nigger” Jim wants to own himself rather than be valued at $800 to someone else, although he feels that is where he belongs.

They take off together on a raft, meeting various adventures involving a violent village where a lethal vendetta rages, and a man of public position is able to shoot another dead; a generous, friendly family; a gang hunting runaway slaves; a commercial vessel prepared to run down their boat. On each occasion Jim was forced to hide while Huck reconnoitred the scenes.

The story is a plea for non-violence, and above all an exposure of how the negro slaves are regarded as property to be bought and sold. As such we are shown that certain attitudes have not progressed in the intervening century and a half since the original 1883 publication. There have been a number of attempts in the 20th and 21st centuries to ban the book.

Written in the vernacular of the unlettered eponymous protagonist and the tongue of his black friend, the fluid prose of the book follows the calms and the storms of the river along which they travel. “Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never seen the wind blow so. It was one of those regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the tree off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest – fst! it was a bright as glory and you’d have a little glimpse of treetops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you’d hear the thunder let go with an awful crash and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs, where it’s long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know” also gives examples of Twain’s simile and metaphor.

Colin Ward’s knowledgeable introduction is well written and helpful.

The pages including Harry Brockway’s muscular wood engravings contain further examples of Twain’s prose.

The header picture is of the boards and spine of my Folio Society edition.