The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley - review by Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter

Huck Finn as a Female – All in a Good Cause

The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton


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To understand the full impact of Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley’s latest book, you need to look back to January 1996, when Smiley published ‘Say It Ain’t So, Huck’, an essay in Harper’s Magazine on classic American literature that infuriated many readers. Smiley sharply criticised Mark Twain, praised Harriet Beecher Stowe, and argued that ‘the canonisation of a very narrow range of white, Protestant, middle-class male authors ... has misrepresented our literary life.’ ‘To invest The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with “greatness”’, she wrote, ‘is to underwrite a very simplistic and evasive view of what racism is.’

Smiley’s critique focused mainly on the ending of the novel, in which Huck and the escaped slave Jim travel down the Mississippi, towards an improbable feel-good ending. The racial brotherhood most critics see in the novel, she argued, is fraudulent: ‘Neither Huck nor Twain takes Jim’s desire for freedom at

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