The original manuscript of "Huckleberry Finn" -- one of Buffalo's literary treasures usually seen only through protective glass -- now is just a mouse click away.
And not even the biggest "Twainiacs" have read about Huck and Jim in quite this way before.
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has unveiled its long-awaited CD-ROM version of the complete original manuscript of Mark Twain's novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
User-friendly and expected to interest both Twain novices and experts, the CD-ROM sells for $59.95 through the Library Foundation of Buffalo and Erie County.
"This is out-of-the-box librarianship," said Michael C. Mahaney, library director. "It's an opportunity to take our most valuable treasure and share it with the world in a way we never could before."
While the priceless paper manuscript is safe and sound in the Central Library, users of the computer version can just click their way through digital images of Twain's handwritten manuscript, which was scanned onto computer and loaded onto disc.
The bonus, and what makes this project unique, is the volumes of additional "Huckleberry Finn" material -- articles, historical context, entire books -- included on the disc to help people of all ages and academic levels better understand what is considered one of the greatest, and most debated, pieces of American literature.
The CD-ROM, developed by University at Buffalo literary scholars Victor Doyno and Robert J. Bertholf, already is getting rave reviews.
"It's just a phenomenally rich source of information," said Thomas J. Reigstad, a Buffalo
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State College professor of English and Twain expert, who had a chance to preview the CD-ROM. "I don't know of any other author and single work that has a CD like this devoted to it, and I'm pretty familiar with the literary works out there.
"As far as American literature and Twain studies, this will probably set the standard for quite a while," Reigstad said.
The CD-ROM includes photo facsimiles of the more than 1,300-page original manuscript by the former Buffalo resident whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
It also includes:
A scholarly transcript that explains Twain's insertions and deletions in the manuscript.
A first-edition text of the novel so readers can put the published text and the original manuscript side by side on the computer screen.
Historical documents putting Huck's era in context and examining some of the overriding issues of the time, such as race and slavery.
Twelve complete books and 309 articles that relate to the novel, Twain or the United States in the 19th century.
More than 85 lesson plans for educators, including suggestions on how to teach the novel and deal with the book's sensitive race issues, which continue to stir controversy in classrooms from time to time.
Library officials, in fact, say they consider it such a marvelous teaching tool that they have offered free copies to libraries in Buffalo Public Schools.
"It's been an evolving project," said Doyno, the UB English professor and Twain scholar. "We didn't think at the beginning we'd have all this."
Doyno was project editor, while Bertholf, curator of UB's Poetry and Rare Book Collection, oversaw production. The project was financed primarily through a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, with additional funding from the Baird Foundation and the Constance Stafford Charitable Lead Trust, said Kathryn E. Vedder, executive director of the Library Foundation.
So far, copies have been sold to members of the Mark Twain Circle, an association of Twain scholars and fans. Last week, Doyno unveiled the CD-ROM to scholars at the American Literature Conference in Cambridge, Mass.
"The idea is for the library to showcase the manuscript and give people an idea what a valuable object this is," Doyno said.
The CD-ROM has been in the making for some time.
The library had long possessed the second half of the manuscript, which was deeded over in the late 1800s by Twain, who had lived in Buffalo from 1869 to 1871 when he was co-editor of the Buffalo Express newspaper.
But the first half of the manuscript disappeared after the death of John Fraser Gluck, a library trustee and Twain friend who apparently had taken the pages home to be bound.
In 1991, one of Gluck's granddaughters found the first half of the manuscript in a California attic. After a complex deal negotiated by Patrick Martin, Library Foundation counsel, the long-missing first half of the manuscript returned to the library.
Obtaining the rights to put the manuscript on CD-ROM also took some legal wrangling, but last week's unveiling marked the fulfillment of that dream.
Mahaney says he hopes it will be just the beginning.
He says he wants to continue to showcase other library treasures in similar 21st century fashion.
"This is just a new form of outreach for the library," Mahaney said.