Jon Clinch, pictured above with symposium co-organizer Kent Rasmussen, challenged the audience for his keynote address on Friday, October 7th to seek the unspoken questions in Mark Twain’s works.
Clinch specifically described one such question, the one that inspired his acclaimed 2007 novel, Finn. That question, which he described as “so obvious it is easily forgotten,” is, “Who is Huckleberry Finn’s mother?” From this question, and from the mysterious circumstances in which Twain left Pap Finn’s corpse in Chapter IX of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, emerges Clinch’s prequel. The central character of Finn is not Huck, but his abusive father. During his keynote, Clinch speculated that Twain, constrained by Victorian mores and his publishers’ standards of decency, could not show the full extent of Pap’s degradation. In Clinch’s novel, from which he read sparingly, he offers a wretchedness adapted for contemporary sensibilities,
For Clinch, the question of Huck’s matrilineal origin is closely related to the question Shelley Fisher Fishkin poses in her 1993 book Was Huck Black? In his keynote, Clinch argued that Huck’s mixed-race identity, unacknowledged by Twain and perhaps unknown even to Huck, resonates through his novel and Twain’s, potentially answering many other questions, both explicit and implicit.