Home » Reviews » The 1885 Reviews of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The 1885 Reviews of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

8 November 2017

From The Literary Hub:

“Were Mark Twain’s reputation as a humorist less well founded and established, we might say that this cheap and pernicious stuff is conclusive evidence that its author has no claim to be ranked with Artemus Ward, Sydney Smith, Dean Swift, John Hay, or any other recognized humorist above the grade of the author of that outrageous fiction, Peck’s Bad BoyHuckleberry Finn is the story (told by himself) of a wretchedly low, vulgar, sneaking and lying Southern country boy or forty years ago. He runs away from a drunken father in company with a runaway negro. They are joined by a couple of rascally impostors, and the Munchausenlike “adventures” that fill the work are encountered in the course of a raft voyage down the Mississippi. The humor of the work, if it can be called such, depends almost wholly on the scrapes into which the quartet are led by the rascality of the impostors, ‘Huck’s’ lying, the negro’s superstition and fear and on the irreverence which makes parents, guardians and people who are at all good and proper ridiculous. That such stuff should be considered humor is more than a pity. Even the author objects to it being considered literature. But what can be said of a man of Mr. Clemens’s wit, ability and position deliberately imposing upon an unoffending public a piece of careless hackwork in which a few good things are dropped amid a mass of rubbish, and concerning which he finds it necessary to give notice that ‘persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot’?”

The New York World, March 7, 1885

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub


16 Comments to “The 1885 Reviews of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

  1. Richard Hershberger

    Yabbut, the book isn’t really humor, much less the light humor that was typical of early Twain. This review is the cry of someone who liked early Twain and was confused and dismayed to find Twain developing as a writer.

  2. I think it was a vengeful Fennimore Cooper fan.


    • Exactly what I was thinking. But it was just as well the person wrote this, because I don’t think I ever heard of the other people mentioned in this rant. I mean, review. Review. Yes.

    • One of my college roommates described The Deerslayer this way. “People think Moby Dick is the most boring book ever written, but that’s only because The Deerslayer is so boring no one has ever finished reading it.”

      I took his criticism to heart and have never opened either book.

      • I love Moby Dick. However, I advise readers to skip the interchapters on whaling. They are probably the main reason people think the book is a snore and they add nothing to the plot. Unless you want to learn how a whale was caught, butchered, and stored, go to the next chapter.

        • I like the whaling chapters, too. Found them fascinating, even as a kid when I first read it.

          I still seriously support Moby Dick as the best American novel.

          • Moby Dick is a technothriller with a lot of literary stuff added in. Just because the technology is old, doesn’t mean
            it isn’t a technothriller.

  3. Twain is still around, still read, still enjoyed.

  4. Someone clearly missed the hilarious Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots.


    If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by and by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn’t particular; she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker—the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t ever the same after that; she never complained, but she kinder pined away and did not live long. Poor thing, many’s the time I made myself go up to the little room that used to be hers and get out her poor old scrap-book and read in it when her pictures had been aggravating me and I had soured on her a little. I liked all that family, dead ones and all, and warn’t going to let anything come between us. Poor Emmeline made poetry about all the dead people when she was alive, and it didn’t seem right that there warn’t nobody to make some about her now she was gone; so I tried to sweat out a verse or two myself, but I couldn’t seem to make it go somehow. They kept Emmeline’s room trim and nice, and all the things fixed in it just the way she liked to have them when she was alive, and nobody ever slept there.

  5. I collect interesting notes at the front of books. These are a few. Please add to my list. Thanks…

    “persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot”

    – Notice from Huckleberry Finn

    “Similarities are neither intentional, nor accidental, but rather unavoidable”

    – from a german novel

    “This is a work of fiction, you are real.”

    – From the start of a RPG manual

    • Very nice, A.

    • They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asked them if they wanted to.

      This book is dedicated to those fine men.

      –Beginning of the dedication from Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett.

      • Missed that one. Thanks…

        I’ve pulled a few more from my list; just in case.

        “It is the tale, not he who tells it.”

        – Stephen King – Different Seasons

        “The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.”

        – Arthur C. Clarke – Childhood’s End

        “Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle.”

        – The Three Stooges – You Nazty Spy

        “All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental, and should not be construed.”

        – Kurt Vonnegut – Breakfast of Champions

  6. Poor critic. What would he have done if he’d known that, a century later, the only reason his own writing would be read is because he called Samuel Clemens a hack.

    • Actually he called Samuel Clemens a man of “wit, ability and position.” And that his “reputation as a humorist” is “well founded.”

      He called the book itself “hackwork.” And then listed all the reasons why he thought so, including listing things that Twain himself said about the book.

      I thought it was a perfectly reasonable review from someone who didn’t like a book, but respected the author for his previous works. That’s, like, his job. And because reviews are opinions, it doesn’t exactly make him wrong that the book lived on. He’s just stating his opinion, like he’s been hired to do. And people read his reviews because they cared about his opinion.

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