So there’s a new edition coming out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (coupled with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) where the “n-word” is systematically replaced by “slave”. (See the article here.) The main idea of the editor Alan Gribben is that people aren’t reading one of the greatest works of American literature merely because the work has frequent use of a word that now carries a tremendous emotional charge it didn’t carry back in Twain’s day. So, he says, take out the offending word, and encourage people to read the great work. (Note, of course, the obvious point that this is only a single edition of the work, and there will be plenty, yes, plenty of tamper-proof editions of the original work available for the rest of time.)
I say good for Gribben and NewSouth books. They are of course at the receiving end of a withering blast of scorn from textual purists who think the replacement constitutes censorship or some deep violation of a virginal text. Hogwash. Indeed, an argument can be made that retaining the “n-word” violates Twain’s text, since the word itself has changed in meaning over time. Certainly Twain never meant eyebrows to be raised every time the word made an appearance, and so retaining it fundamentally alters the good humor of the text. But the main point is this: if such a replacement allows Mark Twain to enter the public schools of America, then so be it!
And, yes, I could even go for renaming Melville’s work Moby Richard if it meant people would actually read the thing.