The Public Reception of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Upon its publication in 1884, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was met with mixed reviews. Some reviewers called it flat, trashy, and irreverent. Others called it Twain's best work yet, hailing his humor and style throughout the novel. Though obscure at first, reviews began to appear in many newspapers throughout the country as more and more became interested in the novel as a result of these reviews.
Huckleberry Finn was published at a time when the nation was deeply concerned about the effects of literature on young minds. Dime novels appeared in abundance, and had moved from western stories to more modern stories, like those of Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa, published in 1883. The main character in these stories was a young prankster, who routinely succeeded in causing pain to adults, namely his father. Stories like these were considered dangerous to young boys who could model their behavior after the characters in the stories.
Huck Finn was seen by many critics as another addition to the growing list of bad-boy stories published in the 1880's. The fact that it was written by an already well-known author added insult to injury for many. The attack on Twain's humor was immediate. The New York World published a review which said:
Were Mark Twain's reputation as a humorist less well founded and established, we might say that this cheap and pernicious stuff is conclusive evidence that its author has no claim to be ranked with Artemus Ward, Sydney Smith, Dean Swift, John Hay, or any other recognized humorist above the grade of the author of that outrageous fiction, "Peck's Bad Boy."
One critic in the Boston Evening Traveller called it "flat, stale, and unprofitable," saying that "it is doubtful if the edition could be disposed of to people of average intellect at anything short of the point of the bayonet." Another critic in the Boston Daily Advertiser called the book monotonous in its humor and use of many dialects.
More harsh criticisms pronounced the book irreverent and trashy. They claimed that the novel was completely without plot of moral. The novel, they claimed was fit for the slums rather than the intelligent, moral ranks of society.
The novel's greatest criticism, however, did not come in the form of a review. In March 1885, the Concord Free Public Library banned the book from its shelves because of its irreverence and lack of morality. One member of the committee which decided to ban the book was quoted as saying:
I have examined the book and my objections to it are these: It deals with a series of adventures of a very low grade of morality; it is couched in the language of a rough, ignorant dialect, and all through its pages there is a systematic use of bad grammar and an...