Now that Tom and Matt have both posted multiple times, the pressure has been building for me to set aside whatever else I’m working on (yes, “working” — somebody has to keep this place going – do you think Tom Bloom remembers to send us artwork all on his own?) and write something.

And this isn’t just ANY blog entry, it’s my first. Matt already did a welcome. Tom already reported on the Boston Book Fair (and he wasn’t even there). At a loss for anything more interesting, you get the minutiae of the kind of nonsense problems that keep me busy here at BTC. In preparing a mini-catalog of our Mark Twain inventory, I wanted to keep all the editions of Huck Finn together. We have over forty entries in our database, with about two dozen different rare and used copies in stock at the moment. Some are listed as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and some are listed as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I like our catalogs to be consistent. Consistently good, consistently bad, I don’t care. Just consistent. I know Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, California, that “There is no there there.” So this afternoon I went in pursuit of the answer regarding The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – is there a “The” there?

I was taught rare book cataloguing by Tom. Tom, according to his diploma, went to “Chino’s School of Harley Repair, Bartending, and Rare Book Cataloguing.” But he now teaches at Rare Book School, so I guess somewhere along the way he figured out the important parts. Tom taught me to look at the title page: “That’s the title, even if it is different from the cover title.”

Fine, so the title page of the first edition of Huck Finn should give the definitive answer, right? Unfortunately, no, not so fast. Huck Finn, one of the key contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, was first published in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus, two months before the American edition came out. We happen to have nice copies of both in stock at the moment that you can even view in 3D on our website [subliminal advertisement: you want to buy these books from us], allowing for a quick first-hand check of the title page(s). And herein the problem begins.

On the British, TRUE FIRST EDITION, the title page (and cover) says “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” On the American first edition (yes, a copy with the all the important first issue points – don’t get me started on those) the title page (and cover) is simply “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” And, further, on BOTH first edition issues, English and American, the first page of text is entitled “The Adventures…” So far, it looks like “The” is winning.

But then I noticed on Wikipedia that “Unlike The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not have the definite article ‘the’ as a part of its proper title. Essayist and critic Philip Young states that this absence represents the ‘never fulfilled anticipations’ of Huck’s adventures—while Tom’s adventures were completed (at least at the time) by the end of his novel, Huck’s narrative ends with his stated intention to head West.” Like everyone else, I trust Wikipedia on everything, except all the stuff that I know to be erroneous (I used to try to make corrections, but really, who has the time when Tom Bloom needs to be reminded about an art deadline and there is a blog entry to be written?). Young was a respected American literature scholar who specialized on Hemingway, and like most literary scholars he probably would have starved to death if he hadn’t kept making and publishing seemingly important critical additions to the canon of American literary theory. I’m not saying he was overreaching a little here – he probably researched more about Twain’s intentions when writing Huck Finn than I have. But maybe, just maybe, he never even checked to see if the missing article was deliberate or not. Many a new theory is based on an intelligent mind assiduously applied to incomplete evidence.

And that gave me an idea – what does the manuscript say? A call to the Mark Twain Room of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library told me soon enough. The reference staff there, who are to be commended for their accessibility, efficiency, and friendly demeanor, put me on hold for a minute or two, quickly checked Mark Twain’s original manuscript, and reported back – no “The” on the title page. (I offered to credit the specific librarian who assisted me, but she wisely thought better than to let her name and mine show up on-line in the same context.) So some time between Twain’s writing the manuscript and his British publisher’s setting the type, somebody put a “The” in there. (There’s a much more famous incident of someone monkeying with the printing plates for Huck Finn, but I’ll save that for another blog entry.)

Twain’s been one of America’s most studied authors for well over a century. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some Twain scholar, at some point, traced through all of his correspondence and publisher archives and determined when and why the “Adventures” became “The Adventures.” On the other hand, this is just the kind of pointless arcana that, in my experience, often gets overlooked. Probably for good reason. [The] end.

OR SO I THOUGHT (oh boy – my first blog entry update!)

Thanks to a little Google in the Book searching, a more definitive answer can be found in the annotations for the edition of Huck Finn put out as part of the  Mark Twain Project of the Bancroft Library. On page 378 a lengthy note states:

“[Illustrator Edward] Kemble’s use of ‘The’ in the title here is mistaken. The definite article was also mistakenly used in the running heads of the first edition, and in some of Webster and Company’s advertisements for the books…. It appeared throughout the English and Continental editions, as well as the third and fourth American editions, published in 1896 and 1899…. Just after completing the book manuscript, Clemens himself quoted the title with [emphasis original] the article in a letter to James R. Osgood, but without it in one to Andrew Chatto, both on 1 September 1883. And probably he, rather than the editor or typesetter, used it in the introductory note for the selections published in the Century Magazine…. Still, there is little room for doubt that he intended the book title to omit the article. Kemble’s design for the cover, which was among the first illustrations reviewed and approved by Webster and Clemens, omitted the article, as did Clemens’s holograph title page from the summer of 1883…. The printed title page of the first edition, as well as the printed half-title, the illustrated cover and the spine (and both front and back of the prospectus) all agree with the holograph title page in omitting the definite article.”

This actually doesn’t add to much to what I had already found – that is, Twain’s intention seemed to be to omit the definite article, but everyone else and even he himself was either confused or sometimes forgot this. If it was really important to him there would probably be more correspondence of him raising a stink each time it was included by mistake. But the Mark Twain Project edition also gave numerous citations in their note, providing fuel for those more intrepid than I.