Banned Books Week: United States v Mark Twain

As part of our mission to advance knowledge and drive change in our world, we at UC Press are excited to recognize Banned Books Week, a celebration of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read all books. And, of course, it would be a challenge to recognize banned books without taking a look at one of the most challenged books of all time– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

9780520266100

Over 100 years after Mark Twain’s death, Huck Finn is still as controversial as ever. Benjamin Griffin, one of the editors of Mark Twain’s autobiography, addresses the book’s 130-year history of banning in an article for BookPage. Check out the full interview here.

“Huckleberry Finn was “banned” several times in Mark Twain’s lifetime—always by librarians. In 1885, when the book was new, the public library in Concord, Massachusetts, withdrew it, citing the characters’ “low grade of morality” and “irreverence.” Huck lies, talks dialect, is friends with a black man, steals and fails to return stolen property (the black man).

Mark Twain’s response to the ban was immediate. He told his publisher: “That will sell 25,000 copies for us, sure.” The commercial blessings of banning, in this country, are well known. Howard Hughes campaigned to ban his own film, The Outlaw, in order to get it released.”

9780520279940

“Back in 1885, the book’s detractors feared that children would become too comfortable with Huck: with his “low” company—and, I suspect, with Jim’s. Mark Twain’s response to this criticism, in his Autobiography, was that children were already routinely damaged by a book the library kept on open shelves—the Bible:

“The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old.”

It was only right, he said, for librarians to escort Huck and Tom out of that book’s “questionable company.”

For more Mark Twain, see our Twain list, and the upcoming final volume of Twain’s autobiography— releasing worldwide next month.