RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL
Paul Thompson (above) has it about right.
Huckleberry Finn is more flop than success.
I like Twain, and at his best, as in the novelette Mysterious Stranger or in parts of Letters From the Earth, he is truly a great writer.
But he was a man who wrote too much that was of poor quality, indeed far more than he did of good quality. He always was desperate for money which he lost in huge quantities trying to get rich with crazy investments like an elaborate, Gyro-Gearloose typesetting machine.
Twain himself was in many ways an archetypical American, feverishly concerned with making money. His art suffered badly.
It could fairly be said he thought his witty lines sufficient to cover stories he did not work hard enough on, but he was wrong.
His wife, the prudish daughter of a Buffalo New York newspaper magnate, often influenced his writing. She was touchy about his using raw language, the very language a boy like Huck would use, as Twain well knew. He cleaned up the manuscript in response to her.
The word “nigger” survived because in Twain’s time it was the common, everyday word. It is actually an embarrassment to read the 200 or so mentions of this word today. I am aware of the literary argument for his repeated use of the word, but I don’t accept it.
Twain was a man who might have been great, but settled for being popular.