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Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane (1871-1900), an American fiction writer and poet, was also a newspaper reporter. His novel "The Red Badge of Courage" stands high among the world's books depicting warfare.

After the Civil War, William Dean Howells, Henry James, and others established realism as the standard mode of American fiction. In the 1890s younger writers tried to enlarge the territory of realism with impressionist, symbolist, and even new romantic approaches. Of these pioneers, Stephen Crane was the most influential.

Crane was born on Nov. 1, 1871, the fourteenth and last child of Mary Helen Crane and the Reverend Doctor Jonathan Townley Crane, presiding elder of the Newark, N.J., district of the Methodist Church. A frail child, Stephen moved with his family from one parsonage to another during his first 8 years. In 1880, with the death of his father, his mother moved her family to Asbury Park, N.J. Stephen was exposed early to writing as a career: his mother wrote on religious topics and lectured for the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and his brother Townley worked as a newspaper reporter.

In 1888 Crane entered military school, where he made an impressive record on the drill field and the baseball diamond but not in the classroom. Without graduating he went to Lafayette College, then to Syracuse University. He flunked out, but whatever his academic record, his time had not been wasted: in his fraternity house Crane, aged 20, had written the first draft of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Returning to Asbury Park as a reporter under his brother for the New York Tribune, Crane attended Hamlin Garland's lectures on the realistic writers. Garland was interested in the young writer, read his manuscripts, and guided his reading.

In 1891 Crane's mother died. Crane spent much of the next year in Sullivan County, N.Y., where another brother practiced law. Five "Sullivan County Sketches" were published in the Tribune and Cosmopolitan (his first magazine appearance). He went frequently to New York City, haunting the Bowery in search of experience and literary material. When he returned to Asbury Park, he lost his job on the Tribune (and his brother's too) by writing an accurate description of a labor parade that undermined his Republican publisher's standing in an election campaign. This year also brought unhappy endings to two romances.

Career as Novelist

In autumn 1892 Crane moved to New York City. By spring he submitted a second version of Maggie to a family friend, Richard Gilder, editor of the Century. Gilder tried to explain his rejection of the manuscript, but Crane interrupted bluntly, "You mean that the story's too honest?" Honest the story is, and blunt and brutal. It shows Maggie as a simple, ignorant girl bullied by her drunken mother, delivered to a seducer by her brother, driven by the seducer into prostitution and, finally, to suicide. In approach the novel is akin to the "veritism" of Garland and the realism of Howells, but it differs stylistically in its ironic tone, striking imagery (especially color imagery), and its compression."Impressionism" is the term often applied to the very personal style Crane was developing. Convinced that no publisher would dare touch his "shocking" novel, Crane printed it at his own expense, using the pseudonym Johnston Smith. The book went unnoticed and unpurchased, except for two copies. Garland, however, admired it and called it to the attention of Howells, then America's most influential man of letters, who recognized Crane's achievement and tried unsuccessfully to get the novel reissued.

By summer 1893 Crane was well into what was to be a Civil War novel. As research he read Century magazine's series "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" and, it is believed, traveled in Virginia to interview Confederate veterans. What he found missing from the history books was the actual sensation any single individual experiences in battle; this is what The Red Badge of Courage conveys. Just as Maggie represents every girl victimized by a slum environment, so Henry Fleming represents every recruit who reels through the noise and glare of war. Neither character had a name in Crane's first drafts: they are "every woman," "every man," buffeted by forces they neither control nor understand. Though there were delays—painful ones for the penniless author—this book was destined for early success. A shortened version was serialized in the Philadelphia Press and hundreds of other newspapers in 1894. The instant critical and popular enthusiasm spread to England when the complete book was published the following year. A revised version of Maggie was issued along with an earlier novel about slum life, George's Mother, in 1896. The syndicate that had arranged newspaper publication of Red Badge of Courage sent Crane to the West and Mexico to sketch whatever struck his fancy.

Poet and Journalist

Crane's first book of poems, The Black Riders, was on the press before his departure. "A condensed Whitman," the Nation aptly called him. His "lines," as he called his poems, are terse, natural, and forceful; ironic and unsentimental. Their language is in the best sense journalistic, just as Crane's reportage had been from the beginning poetic.

The excursion west and to Mexico produced sensitive sketches and materials for a number of Crane's finest stories. Back in New York, he published newspaper articles critical of the city's corrupt police. The police made New York uncomfortable for Crane, so he departed for Cuba to report the anti-Spanish insurrection there. Enroute he stopped in Jacksonville, Fla., where he met Cora Stewart, a handsome New England woman in her late 20s, separated from her husband, the son of a British baronet. She was the owner of the Hotel de Dream, an elegant boardinghouse-cum nightclub-cum brothel and gave it all up to become (quite without clerical or legal formalities) "Mrs. Stephen Crane."

In spite of this "marriage," Crane left for Cuba aboard a small steamer. It sank on its first day out. Crane's heroic role in the disaster—he barely escaped with the captain and two other men—evoked his best short story, "The Open Boat."

War Correspondent

For the Hearst newspapers Crane covered the war between Greece and Turkey. Crane, it appears, wanted to see if war was really as he had depicted it in Red Badge of Courage: it was. But the trip yielded mediocre war reportage and a bad novel, Active Service (1899). Cora had followed Crane to Greece; they next went to England, where Crane finished his powerful novella The Monster and three of his finest short stories, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," "Death and the Child," and "The Blue Hotel."

The Spanish-American War in 1898 provided new employment. Crane sent distinguished reports to the New York World. He was with Cora in England when his second volume of poems, War Is Kind, appeared in 1899. Sick and aware of nearing death, he wrote furiously. That spring Cora took him to the Continent, where he died on June 5, 1900, in Badenweiler, Germany, of tuberculosis. His haunting tales of childhood, Whilomville Stories, and Cuban tales, Wounds in the Rain appeared later that year.

Further Reading

Robert W. Stallman, Stephen Crane: A Biography (1968), is the authoritative source on Crane's life. The two most interesting studies—one biographical, the other critical—are by poets: John Berryman, Stephen Crane (1950), and Daniel G. Hoffman, The Poetry of Stephen Crane (1956). Also recommended are Maurice Bassan, ed., Stephen Crane: A Collection of Critical Essays (1967), and, for views of Crane in the context of his period, Warner Berthoff, The Ferment of Realism (1965), and Larzer Ziff, The American 1890s (1966). □

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Crane, Stephen

Stephen Crane, 1871–1900, American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, b. Newark, N.J. Often designated the first modern American writer, Crane is ranked among the authors who introduced realism into American literature. The ninth child of a Methodist minister, he grew up in Port Jervis, N.Y., and briefly attended Lafayette College and Syracuse Univ. He moved to New York City in 1890 and for five years lived in poverty as a freelance journalist.

His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), a grimly realistic story of slum life, was unpopular but gained the young writer the friendship of Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells. Crane's next novel, The Red Badge of Courage (serialized in newspapers in 1894, pub. 1895, restored ed. 1982), brought him wide and deserved fame. Set during the Civil War, the novel traces the development of a young recruit, Henry Fleming, through fear, illusion, panic, and cowardice, to a quiet, humble heroism. This remarkable account of the emotions of a soldier under fire is all the more amazing since Crane had never been in battle. On the strength of the novel he served as a foreign correspondent in Cuba and in Greece.

Around 1897 Crane married Cora Taylor, who ran a brothel in Florida. His marriage, coupled with his unorthodox personality, aroused scandalous rumors, including those that he was a drug addict and a satanist. Because of this slander Crane spent his last years abroad; he died of tuberculosis in Germany at the age of 28.

Crane was a superb literary stylist who emphasized irony and paradox and made innovative use of imagery and symbolism. Thus, although realistic, his novels are highly individual. Crane also wrote superb short stories and poems. The title stories of The Open Boat and Other Tales (1898) and The Monster and Other Stories (1899) are considered among the finest stories in English. His two books of epigrammatic free verse, The Black Rider (1895) and War Is Kind (1899), anticipated several strains of 20th-century poetry.

See his works, ed. by F. Bowers (10 vol., 1969–76); letters, ed. by S. Wertheim and P. Sorrentino (2 vol., 1988); biographies by J. Berryman (1950, repr. 1975), R. W. Stallman (1968), L. H. Davis (1998), and P. Sorrentino (2014); studies by M. Holton (1972), R. M. Weatherford, ed. (1973), F. Bergon (1975), D. Halliburton (1989), and C. Benfey (1992); bibliography by R. W. Stallman (1972).

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Crane, Stephen

Crane, Stephen (1871–1900) US writer, poet, and war correspondent. His best-known work is The Red Badge of Courage (1895), a grimly realistic story of an American Civil War soldier. Other works include a novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), a collection of short stories, The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure (1898), and poems collected in The Black Riders (1895) and War is Kind (1900).

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Crane, Stephen

CRANE, Stephen

Nationality: American. Born: Newark, New Jersey, 1 November 1871. Education: Schools in Port Jervis, New York, 1878-83, and Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1883-84; Pennington Seminary, 1885-87; Claverack College, and Hudson River Institute, Claverack, New York, 1888-90; Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, 1890; Syracuse University, New York, 1891. Family: Lived with Cora Taylor from 1897. Career: News agency reporter, New York Tribune, 1891-92; wrote sketches of New York life for New York Press, 1894; traveled in the western U.S. and Mexico, writing for the Bacheller and Johnson Syndicate, 1895; sent by Bacheller to report on the insurrection in Cuba, 1896: shipwrecked on the voyage, 1897; went to Greece to report the Greco-Turkish War for New York Journal and Westminster Gazette, London, 1897; lived in England after 1897; reported the Spanish-American War in Cuba for the New York World, later for the New York Journal, 1898. Died: 5 June 1900.

Publications

Collections

The Complete Short Stories and Sketches, edited by Thomas A. Gullason. 1963.

The Portable Crane, edited by Joseph Katz. 1969.

Works, edited by Fredson Bowers. 10 vols., 1969-76.

Prose and Poetry (Library of America), edited by J. C. Levenson. 1984.

Stories and Collected Poems. 1997.

Short Stories

The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War. 1896.

The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure. 1898.

The Monster and Other Stories. 1899; augmented edition, 1901.

Whilomville Stories. 1900.

Wounds in the Rain: War Stories. 1900.

The Sullivan County Sketches, edited by Melvin Schoberlin. 1949; revised edition, edited by R.W. Stallman, as Sullivan County Tales and Sketches, 1968.

Novels

Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (A Story of New York). 1893; revised edition, 1896.

The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War. 1895.

George's Mother. 1896.

The Third Violet. 1897.

Active Service. 1899.

Last Words. 1902.

The O'Ruddy: A Romance, with Robert Barr. 1903.

Play

The Blood of the Martyr. 1940.

Poetry

The Black Riders and Other Lines. 1895.

A Souvenir and a Medley: Seven Poems and a Sketch. 1896.

War Is Kind. 1899.

Other

Great Battles of the War. 1901.

Et Cetera: A Collector's Scrap-Book. 1924.

A Battle in Greece. 1936.

Letters, edited by R.W. Stallman and Lillian Gilkes. 1960.

Uncollected Writings, edited by Olov W. Fryckstedt. 1963.

The War Despatches, edited by R. W. Stallman and E. R. Hagemann. 1964.

The New York City Sketches and Related Pieces, edited by R. W. Stallman and E. R. Hagemann. 1966.

Notebook, edited by Donald J. and Ellen B. Greiner. 1969.

Crane in the West and Mexico, edited by Joseph Katz. 1970.

The Western Writings, edited by Frank Bergon. 1979.

The Correspondence, edited by Stanley Wertheim and PaulSorrentino. 2 vols., 1988.

*

Bibliography:

Crane: A Critical Bibliography by R. W. Stallman, 1972; Crane: An Annotated Bibliography by John C. Sherwood, 1983; Crane: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Scholarship by Patrick K. Dooley, 1992.

Critical Studies:

Crane: A Study in American Letters by Thomas Beer, 1923; Crane, 1950, and Crane: The Red Badge of Courage, 1981, both by John Berryman; "Naturalistic Fiction: 'The Open Boat"' by Richard P. Adams, in Tulane Studies in English 4, 1954; The Poetry of Crane by Daniel Hoffman, 1957; "Realistic Devices in Crane's 'The Open Boat"' by Charles R. Metzger, in Midwest Quarterly 4, 1962; Crane by Edwin H. Cady, 1962, revised edition, 1980; Crane in England, 1964, and Crane: From Parody to Realism, 1966, both by Eric Solomon; "Crane's 'The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky"' by A. M. Tibbets, in English Journal 54, 1965; "Interpretation Through Language: A Study of the Metaphors in Crane's 'The Open Boat"' by Leedice Kissane, in Rendezvous 1, 1966; Crane: A Biography by R.W. Stallman, 1968; The Fiction of Crane, 1968, and The Red Badge of Courage: Redefining the Hero, 1988, both by Donald B. Gibson; A Reading of Crane by Marston LaFrance, 1971; Cylinder of Vision: The Fiction and Journalistic Writing of Crane by Milne Holton, 1972; Crane: The Critical Heritage edited by Richard Weatherford, 1973; Crane's Artistry by Frank Bergon, 1975; Crane and Literary Impressionism by James Nagel, 1980; The Anger of Crane: Fiction and the Epic Tradition by Chester L. Wolford, 1983; Crane by James B. Colvert, 1984; "Crane's Vaudeville Marriage: 'The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky"' by Samuel I. Bellman, in Selected Essays: International Conference on Wit and Humor, edited by Dorothy M. Joiner, 1986; New Essays on The Red Badge of Courage edited by Lee Clerk Mitchell, 1986; Crane by Bettina L. Knapp, 1987; Crane edited by Harold Bloom, 1987; Crane: A Pioneer in Technique by H. S. S. Bais, 1988; The Color of the Sky: A Study of Crane by David Haliburton, 1989; Crane: A Study of the Short Fiction by Chester L. Wolford, 1989; Critical Essays on Crane edited by Donald Pizer, 1990; The Double Life of Crane by Christopher E. G. Benfey, 1993; The Pluralistic Philosophy of Stephen Crane by

Patrick Kiaran Dooley, 1993; The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane and the Economics of Play by Bill Brown, 1996; A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia by Stanley Wertheim, 1997; Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature by Michael Robertson, 1997; Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephen Crane by Linda H. Davis, 1998.

* * *

Though Stephen Crane is best known for his innovative Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage and a handful of superb stories, among them "The Blue Hotel," "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," and "The Open Boat," he was astonishingly productive. When he died in 1900 at the age of 28 from tuberculosis aggravated by his strenuous life as a freelance journalist, he had written six novels, two books of poems, six collections of stories and sketches, and several volumes of miscellaneous journalism. A relativist, ironist, and impressionist, he was the most gifted writer of his generation, and the most original, admired by generations of readers for his acute psychological insights, his bold experiments with new fictional forms, and his witty impressionistic style.

Crane's stories cover an unusually wide range of subjects and settings. He wrote of the savagery of New York slum life, of the horrors of war on imagined battlefields in Virginia and on real ones in Greece and Cuba, of the terror and despair of shipwreck, of the comedy, pathos, and cruelty of childlife in small-town America, and of the blighting powers of social superstition and community prejudice. Yet for all this variety there is a remarkable unity in his writings, partly because of the pronounced and consistent interpenetration of theme in his work, partly because of the power of his integrating imagination. His way of seeing things was shaped by the cultural, social, and intellectual conflicts of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, when the new sciences and advanced theological scholarship were sharply challenging the authority of orthodox religion and whatever faith was left in the expansive ideas of the old Romantic idealism. By the early 1890s, when Crane wrote his first stories, Emerson's notion of a god-like, self-reliant hero who enjoys an original relation to a benevolent and purposeful nature was to many no longer convincing. In Crane's perspective humans appear as diminished, standing helpless before the implacable forces of nature, raging against the hostile—or worse, indifferent—gods they hold responsible for their plight. This paradigm appears regularly in his fiction, bringing into close relationship such superficially disparate stories and sketches as "The Mesmeric Mountain" and "Four Men in a Cave" (in The Sullivan County Tales and Sketches), The Red Badge of Courage, "The Blue Hotel," "The Open Boat," "Death and the Child," "A Descent into a Coal Mine," "Mr. Bink's Holiday," and others. Many of the tropes, images, and motifs associated with the theme are ingeniously adapted from story to story, further emphasizing the connections between them and enhancing the power of imagination that informs them.

The essential traits of Crane's diminished hero appear in his earliest journalistic writings, satirical descriptions of complacent vacationers at resorts along the Jersey Coast. In an ironic phrase here, a mocking image there, he exposed their vanity by placing them in the context of a vast and indifferent nature: the narcissistic "summer girl" appears on the beach as "a bit of interesting tinsel flashing near the sombre-hued ocean"; the pompous founder of the town is certain that his beach enhances the value of the Lord's adjacent sea. The hero of several Sullivan County stories, Crane's first professional fiction, suffers similar delusions. He is "the little man" (many of Crane's characters are anonymous, or nearly so), a swaggering outdoorsman who anxiously explores the rugged Sullivan County landscape for signs of a benevolent and sympathetic nature. What his anxiety-driven fancy discovers is not reassurance but maddening ambiguity: the "black mouth" of a cave gapes at him; a hill, mysteriously sentient, glowers threateningly; yet on occasion, when the sun gleams "merrily" on a little lake, and the soughing pines sing hymns of love, the landscape is a pastoral idyll, a marvel of harmony and divine good will. Laboring under the stress of these fantasies, the "little man" has moods that swing wildly between rage and despair and strutting self-assurance.

This characterization of this hero and the tropes and imagery of an ambiguous nature are the essential elements of many of Crane's stories, including his masterpieces The Red Badge of Courage and "The Open Boat." Like the "little man," Henry Fleming (The Red Badge) desperately seeks justification for his cowardly conduct on the battlefield in the transcendent authority of nature—just as the reflective correspondent in the "The Open Boat" seeks answers to the riddle of being in the seascape. Unlike Henry, the correspondent eventually dispels his neurotic fantasies—the only character in Crane's fiction who does so—and comes to understand that nature is neither for nor against him—neither cruel "nor benefi-cent, or treacherous, nor wise," but "indifferent, flatly indifferent."

In these stories the theme is central, constituting in effect the entire plot; in others it appears obliquely and incidentally. "The Blue Hotel" is a good example of its ingenious adaptation in stories with very different settings and subjects. The "coxcomb" hero, the Swede, an Eastern visitor to the Nebraska frontier town of Fort Romper, takes refuge from a raging blizzard in a local hotel. His head swarming with dime-thriller fantasies of western violence, he suspects the owner and his son of plotting his murder. He beats the outraged son in a savage fistfight and, leaving the hotel, makes his way into the town through the howling storm. Swelled with pride in his heroic victory over the owner's son, the Swede imagines himself as a worthy adversary of the blizzard, a sterling representative of a "conquering and elate humanity." "The conceit of man," Crane writes, neatly encapsulating his major theme, "was explained by this storm to be the very engine of life." The Swede enters a saloon, swelled with pride in his imagined victory. "I like this weather," he boasts to the barman. "It suits me. I like it. It suits me." A moment later the victor is dead, murdered by a professional gambler he tries to bully into having a drink with him.

Though the vain hero and his alienation in nature figures in his work from first to last, Crane pursued other important themes as well. The conflict between the ideals of civic order and lawlessness is the principal theme of "The Blue Hotel" and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," a superb comedy that tells how the newly wed marshal of Yellow Sky, Texas, insures the domestication of the town by subduing the local six-gun wizard, Scratchy Wilson. The power of relentless social and economic forces, the theme of Crane's first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, is vividly, though indirectly, evoked in descriptions of a nightmarish Bowery flophouse ("An Experiment in Misery") and of the despair of huddled men in a bread line ("The Men in the Storm"). Devastation wrought by the bigotry and cruelty of small-town life is the theme of "The Monster" and other Whilomville stories.

Crane's ironic depiction of the tragic consequences of sentimental self-aggrandizement and his unique impressionistic style earned him the admiration of the leading literary writers of his time, among them Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and H.G. Wells. Wells's conviction that Crane's work "was the first expression of the opening mind of a new period" proved prophetic. Some of the major writers of the brilliant 1920s, Amy Lowell, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway, found in his high originality something of the spirit of their own revolutionary literary aims.

—James B. Colvert

See the essays on "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" and "The Open Boat."

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