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2. What Kind of Book is Huckleberry Finn?
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about what kind of book Huckleberry Finn is, focusing in particular on: (i) Twain's statement in a letter to a friend that the novel "is not a boy's book at all" and "will only be read by adults"; (ii) the changing nature of children's literature in the United States at this time, with authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain writing more morally complex characters than what had been seen previously; (iii) the sense of nostalgia in children's books of the 1870-80s, to a world before industrialisation, before urbanisation, etc. – and the extent to which Huckleberry Finn provides a much more realistic version of the American South; (iv) the extent to which Huckleberry Finn draws on the tradition of vernacular comic writing, but uses the genre to explore more serious narrative themes; and (v) the importance of the slave narrative as an influence on Huckleberry Finn, and the extent to which Huckleberry Finn itself is a kind of slave narrative.
In this course, Professor Thomas Ruys Smith (University of East Anglia) explores Mark Twain's 1884/5 novel, Huckleberry Finn. In the first module, we think about the origins of Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain's life and career up to 1884/5. In the second module, we think about what kind of book Huckleberry Finn is, before turning in the third module to the text itself and thinking about Huck and Jim's journey down the Mississippi. In the fourth module, we think about the novel's problematic and controversial ending, before turning in the fifth module to the novel's critical reception, from the very first reviews in 1885 to the criticism of individuals such as Alan Gribben, Jane Smiley, and Toni Morrison.
Thomas Ruys Smith is Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of East Anglia. His primary field of research and teaching expertise is nineteenth century literature and culture, both American and Transatlantic. Frequently, his research is focused around the life and culture of the Mississippi River. His first book, River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi Before Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2007) was an interdisciplinary examination of the different roles played by the Mississippi in antebellum American culture. His second book, Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century (Continuum, 2011), was an exploration of the life and culture of one of America's most fascinating cities during a crucible period in its history. His latest monograph, Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain (LSUP: 2019), is the first book to provide a comprehensive narrative account of Twain's intimate and long-lasting creative engagement with the Mississippi.
Cite this Lecture
Ruys Smith, T. (2021, March 22). Twain: Huckleberry Finn - What Kind of Book is Huckleberry Finn? [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/twain-huckleberry-finn/what-kind-of-book-is-huckleberry-finn
Ruys Smith, Thomas. "Twain: Huckleberry Finn – What Kind of Book is Huckleberry Finn?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Mar 2021, https://www.massolit.io/courses/twain-huckleberry-finn/what-kind-of-book-is-huckleberry-finn