It sounds like something Huck Finn himself might have found floating down the river: a trunk carrying a long-lost hand-scribed draft of one of America’s premier works of literature. The 1990 discovery of the first half of the original manuscript for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — in an attic in California — led to a battle royal over rights and money. But there’s a happy ending: Random House’s publication this spring of a new Huckleberry Finn, complete with reproductions of 30 handwritten pages and the restoration of an entire episode and several extended passages not included in the standard edition, which was first issued in 1885.
”It gives the average reader a much better look at Mark Twain at work and at the living conditions at that time, which were pretty harsh,” says Victor Doyno, the Twain scholar who wrote the new edition’s foreword and addendum. Twain’s original intent can now be seen by reading what he crossed out of the manuscript, passages that often made the novel an even darker satire: Huck eating pig swill; his drunkard father being murdered in a one-woman brothel. The new material also includes a ghost story narrated by the escaped slave Jim and a description of a revival meeting in which a slave woman gets taken with the spirit — notable for a time when many people, particularly Southerners, believed African-Americans did not have souls.
Twain eliminated passages ”for a number of reasons,” says Twain biographer Justin Kaplan, who wrote an introduction to the new edition. ”Some for reasons of length, some for reasons of propriety.” Doyno believes the new edition will not only draw renewed attention to a classic but provide ammunition against the frequent charge that the book — with its use of the word nigger — is racist. ”Twain revised to make Jim braver, to give him more dignity,” he says, arguing that there is nothing haphazard or demeaning in Jim’s dialect: ”The attention to his language is meticulous.”