Interesting Dialogue: Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Amy Blair, and Edith Wharton's “Vice of Reading”

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Issue Date
2017-04-29
Authors
LaPlant, Bradley
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Abstract
This essay seeks to explore Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in relation to Edith Wharton's "The Vice of Reading" and Amy Blair's Reading Up, which contains detailed analysis of the societal conditions that so perturbed Wharton. Although reading Twain's novel was published nearly 20 years before Wharton's article, the author argues that the uncanny similarities between certain characters' behavioral relationships and what Wharton described as “mechanical” and “born” readers, and what Blair termed "trusted intellectuals", suggests that such issues already existed, but merely intensified, in the interceding years. The first part deals with Colonel Sherburn's relationship with Boggs and the lynch mob instigated by Buck Harkness. Sherburn is argued to represent "born readers" like Wharton, who also being an author, sought to regain control of her works from those who misread them, while Boggs and the mob represent "mechanical readers." Boggs "misreading" of Sherburn's death threat leads to his murder: the lynch mob's "misreading" of the the murder leads to its formation, and its "misreading" of proper lynching etiquette leads to its dispersal. The second part deals with the relationships between the King and the Duke, the Wilks sisters (as a whole), Dr. Robinson, Joanna Wilks, Mary Jane Wilks, and Huckleberry Finn. The King and the Duke represent "trusted intellectuals" to the Wilks sisters, whose trust in them leads them to ignore the admonishments of the "born reader" Dr. Robinson, and subsequently to trusting all of their property to the frauds. Joanna expresses limited "born reader" tendencies when faced with the "trusted intellectuals", of which Huckleberry is included, but she ultimately fails to live up to the role. Mary Jane is argued to be a completely "mechanical reader", as she unquestioningly accepts advice from all trusted trusted intellectuals, including Huckleberry.
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