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Stephen Crane


Stephen Crane

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From The Oxford Companion to American Literature, by Hart and Leininger:

Stephen Crane (1871-1900), born in New Jersey, spent most of his youth in upstate New York; he attended Lafayette College and Syracuse University, each for a year, before moving to New York City to become a struggling author and do intermittent reporting for the Herald and Tribune. His first book, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893), was too grim to find a regular publisher, and remained unsold even when Crane borrowed from his brother to issue it privately. Early in 1893, with no personal experience of war, deriving his knowledge primarily from reading Tolstoy and Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, he wrote The Red Badge of Courage (1895), his great realist study of the mind of an inexperienced soldier trapped in the fury and turmoil of battle.

The success of this book led to the reissue of Maggie, and Crane's reputation was established. In quick succession appeared his book of free verse, influenced by Emily Dickinson, The Black Riders (1895); The Little Regiment (1896), naturalistic Civil War stories, issued in England as Pictures of WarGeorge's Mother (1896), the story of the dull lives of a young workingman and his mother in New York; and The Third Violet (1897), a conventional novelette about the romance of a young artist.

Because of his successful treatment of war in his masterpiece, Crane was thrust for most of his remaining life into the field of war reporting. After a period as a correspondent in the South-West and in Mexico, he was sent with a filibustering expedition to Cuba at the end of 1896. The sinking of the ship and his subsequent 50-hour struggle with the waves furnished the theme of his best-known short story, "The Open Boat." Inexperience and illness made his trip to Greece, to report the Turkish war, almost futile. Folowing a short residence in England, he went to Cuba to report the Spanish-American War, and his journalistic sketches and stories of this period are collected in Wounds in the Rain (1900). his observation of the Greco-Turkish War resulted in Active Service(1899), a satirical novel about a war correspondent. 

Upon his return to New York, Crane's health was already broken by the hardships he had endured, and possibly owing to his early treatment of squalor in Maggie and rumors about the immorality of his common-law wife,  myth now arose to the effect that he was a drunk, a drug addict, and generally depraved. Disgusted by unpleasant notoriety, he returned to England, having meanwhile published two collections of short stories, The Open Boat(1898) and The Monster (1899), and a second volume of free verse, War is Kind (1899). Whilomville Stories(1900) is a collection of tales concerned with typical childhoood incidents in a small New York town. Crane's last work shows a decrease in power, for he was broken in health and soon died of tuberculosis in Germany, where he had gone to seek a cure. Posthumously published volumes include Great Battles of the World (1901), an uninspired historical study; Last Words (1902), a collection of his early tales and sketches; The O'Ruddy (1903), an unfinished romance, completed by Robert Barr; and Men, Women, and Boats (1921), a selection, including several stories never before published. His Letters were collected in 1960, and the University of Virginia issued a scholarly edition of his works (10 vols., 1969-75).


Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,
 novel by Stephen Crane, privately issued (1893) under the pseudonym Johnson Smith, but not regularly published until 1896. 

In a slum district of New York City called Rum Alley, Maggie Johnson and her brother Jimmie are maltreated and neglected children of a brutal workingman and his dipsomaniac wife. Maggie, attractive though ignorant and ill cared for, somehow preserves an inner core of innocence in her miserable, filthy environment. She finds work as a collar worker in a sweatshop, while Jimmie becomes a truck driver, typically hard-boiled and fight-loving. Their mother, now widowed, is constantly drunk and has acquired a lengthy police record. Maggie falls in love with Jimmie's tough friend Pete, a bartender, who easily seduces her. For a brief time she lives with Pete, having been melodramatically disowned by her mother. Jimmie offers only the questionalble assistance of administering a beating to his former friend. Pete abandons Maggie, who becomes a prostitute for a few months. Then, heartbroken and unable to succeed in this uneasy, exacting occupation, she commits suicide. Her mother makes a great display of grief, send Jimmie to fetch home the body, and allows herself to be persuaded by her drinking companions to "forgive" her "bad, bad child."

guerraThe Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War,novel by Stephen Crane, published in 1895. The original manuscript, containing an added 5000 words (about 10% of the entirety) deleted by the original publisher, was printed for the first time in 1982. This psychological study of a soldier's reactions to warfare was written before Crane had ever seen a battle. His knowledge was at least partly derived from a popular anthology,Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. The unnamed battle of the novel has been identifies as that of Chancellorsville. 

Henry Fleming, generally called simply "The youth" or "he," is an ordinary, inexperienced soldier, "an unknown quantity," torn between a "little panic-fear" and "visions of broken-bladed glory" as he faces his first battle. He begins with the state of mind of the raw recruit who is anxious to get into battle so that he may show his patriotism and prove himself a hero. He swaggers to keep up his spirits during the delay that precedes his suddenly being thrust into the slaughter. Then he is overcome by unthinking fear and runs from the field. He is ashamed when he joins the wounded, for he has not earned their "red badge of courage," and then he becomes enraged when he witnesses the horrid dance of death of his terribly maimed friend, Jim Conklin. Later, by chance, he gets a minor head wound in a confused struggle with one of the retreating infantry-men of his own army. The next day, when his pretense is accepted that the wound is the result of enemy gunfire, he suddenly begins to fight frantically, and then automatically seizes the regiment's colors in the charge that reestablishes its reputation. He moves through this sultry nightmare with unconscious heroism, and emerges steady, quiet, and truly courageous.

The Black Riders and Other Lines, volume of free verse by Stephen Crane, published in 1895. Influenced by reading Emily Dickinson, Crane in these concise, intense unrhymed poems foreshadows the work of the Imagists. Elliptical renderings of his naturalistic philosophy, they show his bewildered bitterness of youth buffeted by the great impersonal forces of the world.

The Monster, and Other Stories, seven tales by Stephen Crane, published in 1899.

"The Monster," a novelette set in Whilomville, N.Y., is a bitterly ironic comentary on the cruelty and lack of sympathy of ordinary people for an act of humanity they do not understand. Henry Johnson, a black servant in the home of Dr. Trescott, rescuest the physician's young son from a fire. He is terribly disfigured and loses his sanity, so that no home can be found for him in the town. Horrified by the "monster," the townspeople ostracize the doctor and his family because they harbor the man. It finally appears that Trescott has sacrificed his entire happiness for an ethical principle he formerly considered unquestionable. "The Blue Hotel" describes the events that lead to quarrels and a murder at a bar in a small Nebraska town. The victim, a stupid, paranoid Swede, who dies with his eyes fixed on the ironic and symbolic text on a cash register, "This registers the amount of your purchase," is partly responsible for his own death, and his murderer is hardly more responsible than others involved in a sequence of events, although he is sentenced to the penitentiary, because "every sin is the result of a collaboration," and the one who gets the punishment is the one who hapens to be at "the apex of a human movement." "His New Mittens" is concerned with the inner reactions of a small boy who runs away from home, and the remaining stories are studies of men in sensational situations or moments of intense excitement.

The Little Regiment, and Other Episodes of the American Civil War, six short stories by Stephen Crane, published in 1896 and issued in England as Pictures of War (1916).

The title story tells of two brothers in the Union army, whose seeming antagonism conceals a deep affection. During a battle, one of them is believed killed, and the other shows signs of bitter grief. When hi brother suddenly reappears, they greet each other with a curt "hello" and resume their pose of hostility. "Three Miraculous Soldiers" shows the reactions of an ignorant Southern girl, who is terrified when a Union detachment camps on her mother's farm. She helps three Confederate prisoners to escape, but breaks into hysterical tears over a sentry they have wounded. "A Mystery of Heroism" is concerned with the reckless feat of a private who crosses a field during a violent battle to fetch a pail of drinking water. Whan he returns, apparently by miracle, the water is accidentally spilled because any of it can be used. "The Veteran" tells of the heroism of an aged ex-coldier who sacrifices his life to save the animals in a burning barn.

The Open Boat, and Other Tales of Adventure, eight short stories by Stephen Crane, published in 1898, mainly "after the Fact" of his own experiences as a reporter and war correspondent.

"The Open Boat" is a realistic account of the thoughts and emotions of four men who escape in a small dinghy from the wrecked steamer Commodore off the Florida coast. The captain, the cook, an oiler, and a newspaper correspondent, unable to land because of the dangerous surf, see the beach tantalizingly near, but are forced to spend the night on the sea. Next morning they employ their last strength to swim ashore, and all but the oiler survive. "Death and the Child," reminiscent of The Red Badge of Courage, has for its scene a battle of the Greco-Turkish War and is concerned with the psychological reactions of a Greek newspapersman in his first experience of warfare. At first he desires to fight with his countrymen, but as he views the battle more intimately he is overcome by fear and panic, and flees to a nearby mountain, where his self-centered emotion is contrasted with the indifference of an abandoned peasant child. "Flanagan, and His Short Filibustering Adventure" narrates a melodramatic incident of arms smuggling in Cuba before the Spanish-American War. The remaining stories are sardonically realistic adventure tales in Mexico and the Far West. One is "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," about a newly married couple, the marshal of Yellow Sky, Tex., and his bride from San Antonio, who arrive on the train in his town at the moment that the local bad man goes on a drunken shooting spree. After a tense moment, the marshal is spared, not because the bad man was a "student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains." 

Whilomville Stories, 13 tales by Stephen Crane, published in 1900. Except for "The Knife," concerned with the humorous tribulations of two black men in the town of Whilomville, when both try to steal the same watermelon, the stories deal with typical childhood incidents among boys and girls of this small New York town.

"The Angel Child" tells of an ingenious birthday entertainment invented by little Cora Trescott, who treats her friends to haircuts at the shop of an unperceptive barber, to the alarm and sorrow of their parents. "Lynx-hunting" details the adventures of three small boys with a rifle who seek a lynx, aim at a chipmuk, and hit a farmer's cow. "The Lover and the Telltale" is concerned with the tragedy of Jimmie Trescott, who attacks his school-fellows because they have derided him for writing a love letter to his cousin Cora, and it is kept after school by his teacher. "The Trial, Execution, and Burial of Homer Phelps" tells of the imaginative play of a group of boys, and the misfortunes of their unwilling victim. "A Little Pilgrimage" deals with the disastrous error of Jimmie Trescott, who leaves his Sunday school because it has been announced there will be no Christmas tree this year, only to join another that follows the same policy. "'Showin' Off'" is a humorous account of the rivalry between two youngsters for the favors of a vain little girl in a red hood.

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