Howells as Censor


The manuscript of Tom Sawyer that MT sent his friend Howells was a copy made by a secretary. It is now in The Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site, in Stoutsville, Missouri. John Josef Huffman, the Historic Site Administrator, generously made the two photographs reproduced here, which show a couple of the most interesting of the places where Howells suggested revisions in the margins. At left is the passage in Chapter Five describing the way Tom, a pinch-bug and a vagrant poodle dog disrupt the church service. As you can see by looking at the canceled line, MT had originally written that the dog "went sailing up the aisle, with his tail shut down like a hasp." The pencilled comment in the left margin is by Howells, and reads: "awfully good but a little too dirty." After getting the MS back from Howells, MT then cancelled the italicized words.


The other MS passage is from Chapter Twenty. It depicts Becky's discovery of the picture of "a human figure, stark naked," in the teacher's anatomy text. In the margin Howells wrote "I should be afraid of this picture incident." MT's responded, in this MS, by cancelling the words "stark naked" -- although he did not finally leave them out of the book -- and by making a series of revisions in his depiction of this incident, including leaving out entirely Tom's reflections on the event: "But that picture is -- is -- well, now it ain't so curious she feels bad about that. No . . . . . . No, I reckon it ain't. Suppose she was Mary, and Alf Temple caught her looking at such a picture as that, and went around telling. She'd feel mighty bad. She'd feel -- well, I'd lick him. I bet I would."

Manuscripts provided by the Mark Twain Birthplace Historic Site,
operated by the Missouri Department of Natual Resources.

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