January 7, 2011

The Bastardization of American Literature

Have you heard/read about this?  The fact that a professor of English at Auburn University, Alan Gribben, who (supposedly) is a “passionate academic” of Mark Twain, is publishing a “sanitized” version of Huck Finn.  His aim, he claims, is to ensure that this book is welcomed by all schools and their curriculums.

This has just now hit my radar and I've got to tell you I am not happy about it.

I remember having to take turns reading the book aloud in class - a long time ago (high school? middle school?) and being extremely uncomfortable about "the" word.  But isn't that part of learning - stretching outside of what is "comfortable?"

Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers - I love his stories and have tried and tried to interest my son in them for years (he has no interest - yet).  Mark Twain wrote stories about society as it was then.  It wasn't pretty and nice. It wasn't politically correct.  And it certainly wasn't morally right.  BUT - that is the way it was.  

If the book is "sanitized" what lessons do we learn?  How is it possible that we think we can re-write the past?  And if we allow the distortion, nay – the bastardization - of the words of one of America's greatest writers - where will it end?  What's the next target? Roots? 

I remember watching Roots, with my family, and being extremely disturbed. Should that be sanitized as well?  Too keep people from being "uncomfortable?" When we bury our heads in the sand about what really happened in the past - aren't we doomed to repeat it in one form or another?
Yes, we all want our children to grow up in a peaceful world where everyone is treated with respect – but how do you drive that lesson home without the true telling of just how ugly the past really was?  If we make the past "nice" how then do we teach our children right from wrong?

Mark Twain's words were true to his time and were used in that context for telling a story about society in that era.  Unfortunately, "that" word was considered acceptable back then.  As was the treatment of other human beings.
Even more unfortunately, this word is considered acceptable in certain circles today; as evidenced in some music and videos.  So can you explain to me, why Huck Finn needs to be "sanitized" while the music industry continues to allow "that" word to be used prolifically? 
I asked my family what they thought – while one is an avid reader (though not of Twain, sadly) the other is not.  They were both outraged as well.  
I asked the Intellectual Property attorney at work about this – she too believes that the book should be left alone.  That it is a “snapshot” of history.  When I questioned the legality of it – she explained, that unfortunately; it is legal.  Apparently, so many years after the death of the author the work is considered "public domain".  
Be that as it may, she went on to say that if this “sanitized” version is published it should be well-noted that it is an AMENDED version of the original work.
Despite the legal right of the publishing company, and this professor, to do so – I call B.S.  Big time (and the IP attorney agreed.  And for that matter, so did a random litigator who happened to be walking by when he got sucked into this conversation).
Mr. Twain took great pains to capture the spirit and flavor of the era and locations of which he was writing.  Mark Twain’s writing actually transports you to the era and location with his prolific use of colloquialism, vernacular and ability to write in “accents.”  So when you begin to bastardize his work you lose the context he was trying to convey to the reader.
While Professor Gribben would claim that his goal is a noble one – I disagree completely.  As a professor of English – he should be encouraging that Mark Twain’s works are kept whole and accepted as part of an educational curriculum; as a key to open the door for discussion.  You cannot re-write history simply because you feel that the harsh reality is too much for today’s society.
As I feel that my ability to express my outrage is so very inadequate, here is a link to an article in the NY Times – that can explain it so much better than I can.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/books/07huck.html

If you wish to voice your displeasure with this "new" publication, here is the address of the publisher (you can bet they will be hearing from me!).

NewSouth Books, Inc.
P. O. Box 1588
Montgomery, AL 36102-1588

I seriously doubt that it will help - but you never know.  I refuse to link to their site because I am so totally outraged.

My thoughts on Professor Gribben?  If he were truly a "passionate" academic of Mark Twain then he would never dare to presume that he could publish a "sanitized" version of the book.  In fact, I believe that were he a true academic of Twain he would be pushing that this book be on every required reading list - as is.  

Because as I said earlier - isn't the point of education is to stretch beyond what is "comfortable?"


  1. I didn't know anything about this. Will send my letter tomorrow.

  2. I agree I agree!! He probably just wants the fame and money

  3. i was so furious when i heard about this. you're right, it teaches a lesson in the ways of the society of long ago. that word, as yucky as it it, was common back then.
    some people just do things for attention, like this stupid professor.

  4. I heard about this too.

    It's a sad, sad world we live in when political correctness starts attacking the classic works of great authors.

  5. I agree with you Gigi. I think it's ridiculous what he wants to do. That book is about a boy and the time he lived in. If you take the "n" word out you are censoring Mark Twain and the era the book was wrote. The professor ought to dig his head out of his ass.

  6. They really should leave well enough alone. Geez, you're afraid to open your mouth for fear of being politically incorrect and offending someone. I hope they spend a lot of money to do this and no one buys the book. It would serve him and his publisher right!

  7. The Montgomery (AL) Advertiser published an online rant, "Sanitizing novels offensive" @ http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20110108/OPINION01/101070367/1006/opinion/Rants-and-Raves--Sanitizing-novels-offensive

    An acquaintance of mine posted her comment, copied below, following the rant:

    ddforliberty wrote:

    Rewriting the classic Twain novel(s) reminds me of George Orwell's masterpiece "1984". Winston's job was to rewrite history every second of every day using "insoc or newspeak". He sat like a robot and changed the history and language of the nation hourly every day. The goal of course was to keep a few in charge of the many, and the many as ignorant as possible, as only the educated can learn to fight tyrants.
    How are we ever to learn from our past if we refuse to look at all aspects of that past, both good and bad?
    This is only more affirmation in my mind that the state is getting more bold about shifting personal responsibility, something parents should teach their children, to the job of the state. They purport to know better what is good for you and your family.
    These so called do gooders do more harm than good and discourage honest and open debate, perpetuate lies that are training our children to be like Winston. To live, think and work as robots for the state.

  8. Gigi, my own thoughts about this are in the form of a question.

    Why don't those who disparage "Huckleberry Finn" as written by Mark Twain just confiscate all copies of the book worldwide and enjoy a humongous book-burning bonfire surpassing anything the Nazis did in pre-WWII in Germany?

    Maybe no one dares to do that.

  9. There was an interesting discussion on this topic on a Montgomery, AL talk radio station on Jan 10 between the host of the program and a black writer (named Tony Norman) at a newspaper in Pennsylvania. Within a day or two you should be able to hear this discussion on a podcast if you go to http://newstalk1079.com/category/podcast/viewpoint-podcast and find the podcast for the third hour on January 10.

  10. I completely agree with you. This is exactly how history is re-written. Slowly, one thing at a time until no one still has the original story.

  11. i HATE the whole "politically correct" crap!!! It seems as if society wants our kids to grow up being a bunch of vaginas. (excuse the word) No winners or losers, cause losing might lower self esteem, no letter grades, just pass and fail, because someone might feel awful if they received an actual F. Rewriting books so as not to offend anyone....its crap. How else will kids learn about racism? Pride? Accomplishemt?

  12. Who does he think he is protecting? White kids? Black kids? Who benefits from sanitization? Because ALL of todays kids should know exactly how ugly racism is.

  13. I knew nothing about this. Sigh. I hope the original is never "lost".

    PS Love the new profile pic!

  14. The fact that he is a professor daring to alter something that MARK TWAIN wrote speaks poorly for his bosses.

    "Nigger" has been given too much power. I completely resent any word that I'm not "allowed" to use; and while I don't recommend shouting it in a crowded theater, I do recommend recognizing it as a word in the English language!

    Way to touch a nerve, Gigi! :-)


  15. Look at you go! I love your passion. And such good points. Loved this Gigi!

  16. Great post and I totally agree with you. No work should be changed just to make people "feel" more comfortable.

    Also, they are even changing, or already have, changed many Judy Blume's books so that instead of cassette tapes it talks about CDs, and vhs to DVD or added in iPads/iPods/iPhones

    That's right kids, we sure don't want you learning what the past is like. It is only important to learn about the present and futrue /sarcasm off

  17. Yes, yes and yes. I hear you...this is a fabulous post, sweetie!

    My reaction was twofold:
    1) The guy's looking for a quick buck. Easy enough to do, if you arrange for some good, old-fashioned public outrage. Good, bad or indifferent, any press is gonna bring him some green.
    2) Anyone who's objected to Twain's book is ignorant in more ways than one...and creating a REVISED edition of this classic isn't gonna change that.
    Climbing down now...pass me my drink.

  18. I have no sympathy for Gribben. I will not accept him as my judge and arbiter of what I can read.

    Thanks for the link to the publisher. They will be hearing from me.

  19. I hate that so many people get their feathers ruffled about being offended. I think they'd get offended by a fried egg for Gods sake.

    People are LOOKING for a reason to get pissed off. They WANT to cause controversy. And it's never okay to say, "well, we're not going to change that." Everything nowadays is, "treat everyone equally! Don't make anyone feel less than! Don't hurt anyone's feelings - real or imagined!"

    I think we should start with the motto: just man up and get over it.

  20. One of my favourite childhood books....my son was telling me about this. I agree it is ridiculous. Our history is being obliterated because we should all be PC now....what will they decide to erase from time now that is deemed un PC in years to come. It is part of history and it should be a reminder at how far we have come. :(

  21. It's encouraging to read that a mother of 5 in the UK (Cherished By Me) commented saying, in so many words, that this is just nonsense.

    I congratulate her for having it right.

  22. A resounding, table-thumping AMEN to that! This smacks of 1984's constant history revision.