Redefining Huck



After 20 long years of researching and writing, English professor Andrew Levy has published his book “Huck Finn’s America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece.”

Butler’s English department will show its support by featuring Levy and his book for Conversations@Efroymson series Jan. 22.

Dan Barden, an English professor, said Levy’s book was “wonderful to read.”

“Andy Levy has already had a brilliant career as a nonfiction writer and historian and literary critic,” Barden said. “And I think this book, in some ways, is the culmination of everything that he has done up to it and all his gifts as a writer and a public intellectual.”

The book closely follows the life and writing of  Mark Twain, author of the novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” It researches the time period and conditions that led Twain to write the novel.

“I think (Twain) is a great writer, and that the novel is a great novel,” Levy said. “His life was incredible and also a window into the 19th century for modern readers, as is the book, which is an encyclopedia of 19th-century pop culture.

Levy said he was also interested in the reputation of Huck Finn, as it is referred to as the most often taught book in American schools, as well as “the great American novel” among critics.

“Huck Finn’s America” argues that the classic novel’s true arguments are fairly modern and differ from the arguments that are often highlighted and discussed, exemplified in the way “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is taught in schools.

Levy said that the novel is an American icon. What kept him writing was the sense that the book needed different opinions.

Through research and writing, Levy’s book unveils Twain’s surroundings during the time he was creating the story of Huckleberry Finn. This includes factors that may have influenced his writing at that point in his life, such as social movements of the time.

“I tried to recreate as much as possible (those) circumstances that surrounded Twain as he wrote, edited and promoted Huck Finn, but without a modern agenda—so that readers could decide for themselves what it all means,” Levy said. “I thought, if nothing else, that would shake off the cobwebs that tend to stick to any ‘classic’ book.”

Levy said fellow faculty at Butler were supportive and encouraging throughout the creative process.

In addition to the faculty of the English department, Levy’s students also played a role in the process of creating the book.

Levy said he went as far as listing his own students’ essays and articles for the book.

“I worked with students much more with this book than previous books, and that was great,” Levy said. “Many of the ideas in the book were tested in class conversations, were part of a back and forth with students—both English and education students.”

Levy’s book further explains and elaborates the points Twain was trying to create through the character and novel of Huckleberry Finn.

“Twain is considered a great writer of books for children—Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Prince and the Pauper, and so on—but he was the father of three daughters, and he recorded many details of his family life in writings that have only been published this past fall, by the University of California,” Levy said. “And once you read those materials alongside his famous novels, you begin to see that he wasn’t just writing for children, but for parents, and teachers, too. And he was really challenging them.”