San Francisco Chronicle [unsigned]
1885: March 29

[The Chronicle had already reviewed the novel favorably two weeks earlier. Presumably it was learning about "the action of the Concord Public Library" that provoked them to write this second favorable review.]

Ruling Out Humor

The action of the Concord Public Library in excluding Mark Twain's new book, Huckleberry Finn, on the ground that it is flippant and irreverent, is absurd. The managers of this library evidently look on this book as written for boys, whereas we venture to say that upon nine boys out of ten much of the humor, as well as the pathos, would be lost. The more general knowledge one has the better he is fitted to appreciate this book, which is a remarkably careful sketch of life along the Mississippi river forty years ago. If one has lived in the South he can appreciate the art with which the dialect is managed, exactly as he can in Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus, or in Craddock's Tennessee mountain tales. If he has not he will be forced to take it on trust. So with the characters. They are peculiarly Southern, but only those who have lived south of Mason and Dixon's line can thoroughly appreciate the fidelity to nature with which they have been drawn. When the boy under 16 reads a book he wants adventure and plenty of it. He doesn't want any moral thrown in or even implied; the elaborate jokes worked out with so much art, which are Mark Twain's specialty, are wasted upon him. All the character sketches go for nothing with this eager reader, who demands a story. To be sure, here is a story in the the astonishing series of adventures of "Huck" Finn and the runaway negro, but it is so overlaid with this embroidery of jokes, sketches and sarcasm, that the story really forms the least part of it. Take the whole latter part of the book, which is given up to the ludicrous attempt to free the negro, Jim, from his imprisonment on the Arkansas plantation. This is a well-sustained travesty of the escapes of great criminals, and can only be fully appreciated by one who has read what it ridicules. Running all through the book is the sharpest satire on the ante-bellum estimate of the slave. Huckleberry Finn, the son of a worthless, drunken, poor white, is troubled with many qualms of conscience because of the part he is taking in helping the negro to gain his freedom. This has been called exaggerated by some critics, but there is nothing truer in the book. The same may be said of the ghastly feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords, which is described with so much dramatic force. The latter depicts a phase of Southern life which the advance in civilization has had no power to alter. The telegraphic reports of periodical affrays in the South and Southwest show that the medieval blood-feud is still in force there and receives the countenance of the best society.

These are only a few instances which go to show that this is not a boy's book and does not fall under the head of flippant and worthless literature. Of its humor nothing need be said. There is a large class of people who are impervious to a joke, even when told by as consummate a master of the art of narration as Mark Twain. For all these the book will be dreary, flat, stale and unprofitable. But for the geat body of readers it will furnish much hearty, wholesome laughter. In regard to the charge of grossness, there is not a line in it which cannot be read by a pure-minded woman. There are too few books of genuine humor produced nowadays to have one of them stigmatized as unfit for general reading, and it is on this ground only that the absurd attack of these New England library authorities is worth notice.

Homepage Next Page