Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sanitizing Literature

I just read a news story (in the National Post) about a publisher in Alabama (NewSouth Books) that plans to reissue Huckleberry Finn. They will publish a scrubbed and polished version from which offensive language (i.e. the "N" word and other racial epithets) has been removed.

I do not like that word (or certain other words) but I don't agree with changes made, especially so long after the fact, and especially without the author's approval (obviously impossible to get in this case).

A book (or poem or play or ...) captures certain realities and reflects moment(s) in time.  Were "Huck Finn" written today, it would be a different book, with a different audience, and perhaps even a different message. 

I'd love to know what others think about making posthumous edits to a classic.

Here's a link to the article:  Huckleberry Finn News Story


  1. I'm really uncertain about this. While I agree that it's a dangerous (and to be cliché) slippery slope to start sanitizing, I too cringe when I read the "n" word and some others, in classic books. There's a strong, positive message in Huckleberry about acceptance and erroneous judgements, but does the message get lost by the use of a word that is now determined to be demeaning? As I said, I just don't know. I'm uncomfortable with changes, but I'm uncomfortable with it as is, too. Wish Mark were here to ask. I have a feeling he'd revise it.

  2. I think it's dreadful. And in the case of Huckleberry Finn, particularly ironic. The character referred to as nigger, Jim, is the most noble fellow in the book. He is the only real grown up.