Adventures of an American Classic

Historians of American life and culture have studied and argued about Mark Twain’s use of dialect in his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn since the novel’s U.S. publication on this date in February 1885.  Censors and bowdlerizers have made efforts to prevent students and others from reading the novel with its dialect intact.  From early attempts to ban the book in public libraries to the latest efforts by one professor to scrub the book clean of offensive language, the novel has had a long and controversial history.  Indeed, a recent New York Times article reported on new efforts to censor Twain.

When Twain published his American edition of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on February 18, 1885, he commissioned Edward Windsor Kemble, son of California newsman Edward C. Kemble, to illustrate the work.  Twain had worked on the Alta California, a newspaper once owned by the elder Kemble (click here for an AAS catalog list of newspapers edited by E.C. Kemble).

Edward W. Kemble later reflected on his illustration process in “Illustrating Huckleberry Finn” which appeared in the February 1930 issue of The Colophon: A Book Collectors’ Quarterly. In the article, Kemble describes the beginning of his career as a time when he “was a budding cartoonist … and Thomas Nast reigned supreme as the master cartoonist of the country.” Illustrating Twain’s book, though, changed everything for Kemble. His images became so closely associated with Huckleberry Finn that when William D. Taylor directed the 1920 film version of the Adventures, he modeled his actors and set after Kemble’s illustrations.

E.W. Kemble’s illustrations have never received the same type of controversy or attention as Twain’s language, yet Kemble’s depictions of African-Americans were prominently featured in late-nineteenth-century periodicals, newspapers, and illustrated novels. Below is a sampling of records for other works featuring illustrations by Kemble and owned by AAS.

Newspapers and periodicals:

The Daily Graphic

Harper’s Magazine

Scribner’s Magazine

St. Nicholas

Century Magazine


Widow Guthrie by Richard Malcolm Johnston

The Primes and Their Neighbors by Richard Malcolm Johnston

The Tar Baby, and Other Rhymes of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris

Daddy Jake the Runaway by Joel Chandler Harris

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1892) by Harriet Beecher Stowe

For a list of all the cataloged works illustrated by Kemble at AAS, click here.  And, of course, both the American first edition and the earlier London edition from 1884 of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with their now-famous Kemble illustrations, are at AAS, too!

2 thoughts on “Adventures of an American Classic”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *