The Public Reception of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry FinnUpon 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…
…ne of the strongest points of the novel is that it “teaches it lessons by implication, not by preaching; and literature is at it best when it is an imitation of life and not an excuse for instruction.” The humor in the novel is also complimented, and it is this humor which contributes to the instructiveness of the novel. The review ends with the statement that the “story is capital reading.”
Huckleberry Finn was met with both positive and negative reviews when it was published. Those positive reviews praised the work of Mark Twain, encouraging the audience to read the novel. Those negative reviews also encouraged the audience to read the novel by stating the wickedness of it as a whole, therefore influencing people to read it just to see what it contained. Though for some novels mixed reviews mean smaller sales, for Huck Finn, every review lead to sales of novel.