A new version of Twain's classics


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06-01-2011 08:26 AM


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ABC Canberra 666


06-01-2011 08:26 AM



06-01-2011 09:06 AM

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2011-01-06 08:26:37

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A new version of Twain's classics -

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A US publisher has released a combined edition of Hucklebury Finn and Tom Sawyer that replaces the
epithet 'nigger' with the word 'slave'. The publisher has been bombarded with emails and phone
calls questioning the value of changing literature to meet modern sensibilities.

TONY EASTLEY: Mark Twain once wrote "the difference between the almost right word and the right
word is really a large matter. It's the difference between the lightening bug and the lightning".

So did Twain choose the right word in his famous work The Adventures of Hucklebury Finn?

In the 1844 book he used the word "nigger" more than 200 times.

Now a publisher in Alabama has released a combined edition of Hucklebury Finn and Tom Sawyer that
replaces the epithet with the word "slave".

NewSouth Publisher has been bombarded with emails and phone calls questioning the value of
sanitising a work of 19th century literature for the sake of modern sensibilities.

Suzanne La Rosa from Publishers NewSouth is speaking here with AM's Timothy McDonald.

SUZANNE LA ROSA: We were persuaded by Dr Alan Gribben who is a Twain scholar that increasingly
there was pre-emptive censorship on the part of teachers who were increasingly uncomfortable
teaching the text for reasons of the racial slurs.

And so it occurred to him that an edition in which substitute words were added in would be
agreeable to these people who were struggling to get these books read.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: It's quite understandable that both teachers and students would be uncomfortable
with these words.

But on the other hand in a way isn't that the point? I mean this is social history as well as
literature as well. This in a sense is one of the ways that people learn.

SUZANNE LA ROSA: You know I do take that point but this is not meant to be a definitive edition.

There are literally scores of editions of these Twain books out there on the marketplace for people
who really place adherence to Twain's original text at the top of their priority list.

We simply felt that there was room in the marketplace for a book that was a gentler read.

We responded very specifically to Dr Gribben who felt real pain because Twain was being less and
less read. I mean it's just not even on the curriculum lists where it had been you know king for
many, many years.

In fact it's a minor irony that he pointed out to us that Twain's books were becoming like he never
wanted them to be, quote unquote, something like "much praised but never read".

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But where do we draw the line with this sort of thing? I mean should we for
example be rewriting Shakespearean passages that appear anti-Semitic? Should we...

SUZANNE LA ROSA: Well we rewrite Chaucer.

You know look I'm not going to be put in a position to defend what we've done here. It's an
alternative edition for people who might want it okay?

It does, I don't mean to suggest that Twain's original text is not important to us. This is hardly
going to make a difference, really a ripple even in terms of what's available.

TONY EASTLEY: Suzanne La Rosa from NewSouth Publishers in the US speaking to Timothy McDonald.