Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands at the summit of American fiction, followed closely (in chronological order) by The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Portrait of a Lady, The Great Gatsby, four of Faulkner’s novels beginning with The Sound and the Fury, and Invisible Man. Let us pause this morning for the sheer pleasure of it over one paragraph from Huckleberry Finn, a paragraph from chapter 7 that virtually encapsulates the whole book:
I got out amongst the driftwood, and then laid down in the bottom of the canoe and let her float. I laid there, and had a good rest and a smoke out of my pipe, looking away into the sky; not a cloud in it. The sky looks ever so deep when you lay down on your back in the moonshine; I never knowed it before. And how far a body can hear on the water such nights! I heard people talking at the ferry landing. I heard what they said, too — every word of it. One man said it was getting towards the long days and the short nights now. T’other one said this warn’t one of the short ones, he reckoned — and then they laughed, and he said it over again, and they laughed again; then they waked up another fellow and told him, and laughed, but he didn’t laugh; he ripped out something brisk, and said let him alone. The first fellow said he ‘lowed to tell it to his old woman — she would think it was pretty good; but he said that warn’t nothing to some things he had said in his time. I heard one man say it was nearly three o’clock, and he hoped daylight wouldn’t wait more than about a week longer. After that the talk got further and further away, and I couldn’t make out the words any more; but I could hear the mumble, and now and then a laugh, too, but it seemed a long ways off.
A bad joke heard at a distance, repeated over and over, then the sound of muffled laughter, while Huck floats down the middle of the river lying on his back with daybreak approaching…this is the pure comedy of the pleasure principle in play.