The news item about a publisher cleaning up Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to eliminate references to “the N-word” is both laughable and lamentable. The work is in the public domain so there are no copyright issues or control to be exerted by the author’s heirs so I suppose that the publisher is well within their rights to change the text in any way they like. They argue that this change will bring new readers to the work, as if Twain has been falling out of fashion. This is a silly nod to political correctness.
I think this move is an abomination, worse than colorizing black and white movies or putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo’s David. Without launching into an analysis of the work Twain used the vernacular of the day to emphasize the discrimination against African Americans, which Twain abhorred, and Jim’s humanity.
President Harry Truman (whose grandfather held slaves) used the same term in private correspondence and went on to desegregate the armed forces. Yet historians would use the former as evidence that Truman was fundamentally racist. No, Truman was just a man of his time who changed with the times.
I have written an historical novel, 104,000 words from the point of view of a slave. Omitting the N-word would make the work incomplete and dishonest. Omitting the word from Twain’s work makes it incomplete and dishonest. Don’t buy it.