Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. Today, he is recognized as being one of the most innovative writers of his generation.
The eighth surviving child of highly devout parents—his father was a Methodist minister and his mother a leading member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union—Crane was raised in several New Jersey towns and Port Jervis, New York. He began writing at an early age and had published several articles by the age of 16. Having little interest in university studies, he left school in 1891 and began work as a reporter and writer. Crane's first novel was the 1893 Bowery tale Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which critics generally consider the first work of American literary Naturalism. He won international acclaim for his 1895 Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote without any battle experience. The novel is now considered an American classic.
In 1896, Crane endured a highly publicized scandal after acting as a witness for a suspected prostitute. Late that year he accepted an offer to cover the Spanish-American War as a war correspondent. As he waited in Jacksonville, Florida for passage to Cuba, he met Cora Taylor, the madam of a brothel and his future common-law wife. While en route to Cuba, Crane's ship sank off the coast of Florida, leaving him marooned for several days in a small dinghy. His ordeal was later described in his well-known short story, "The Open Boat". He subsequently covered conflicts in Greece and Cuba, about which he wrote numerous dispatches and stories. During the final year of his life he lived in England with Cora. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium at the age of 28.
At the time of his death, Crane had become an omnipotent figure in American literature. He was nearly forgotten, however, until two decades later when critics revived interest in his life and work. Stylistically, Crane's writing is characterized by descriptive vividness and intensity along with the use of dialect and irony. Common themes involve fear, spiritual crisis and social isolation. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, Crane is also known for his unconventional poetry and heralded for short stories such as "The Open Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Monster" and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky". His writing has made a lasting impression on contemporary writers, most prominent among them Ernest Hemingway, and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists.
As a child, Stephen was often sickly and afflicted by constant colds. His father wrote in his diary when the young boy was not yet two that his youngest son became "so sick that we are anxious about him." Despite his fragile nature, Crane was a precocious child who taught himself to read before the age of four. His first known inquiry, recorded by his father, dealt with writing; at the age of three, while imitating his brother Townley's writing, he asked his mother, "how do you spell O? In December 1879, Crane wrote a poem about wanting a dog for Christmas. Entitled "I'd Rather Have –", it is his first surviving poem. Stephen was not regularly enrolled in school until January 1880, but he had no difficulty in completing two grades in six weeks. Recalling this feat, he wrote that it "sounds like the lie of a fond mother at a teaparty, but I do remember that I got ahead very fast and that father was very pleased with me.
Dr. Crane died on February 16, 1880, at the age of 60. He was mourned at his funeral by some 1,400 people, more than double the size of his congregation. After her husband's death, Mrs. Crane moved her family to Roseville, near Newark. After living with his brother William in Port Jervis for a few years, Stephen and his sister Helen then moved to Asbury Park to be with their brother Townley and his wife. Townley was a professional journalist; he headed the Long Branch department of both the New York Tribune and the Associated Press and also served as editor of the Asbury Park Shore Press. Agnes took a position at Asbury Park's intermediate school and moved in with Helen to care for the young Stephen. Within a couple of years, several more losses struck the Crane family. First, Townley's wife, Fannie, died of Bright's disease in 1883 after the deaths of the couple's two young children. Agnes then became ill and died on June 10, 1884, of cerebrospinal meningitis at the age of 28.
After two years, Crane left Pennington for Claverack College, a quasi-military school. He would later look back on his time at Claverack as "the happiest period of my life although I was not aware of it. A classmate remembered him as a highly literate but erratic student, lucky to pass examinations in math and science, and yet "far in advance of his fellow students in his knowledge of History and Literature", his favorite subjects. Not having a middle name like the other students, he took to signing his name "Stephen T. Crane" in order "to win recognition as a regular fellow". Crane was seen as friendly, but also moody and rebellious. He sometimes skipped class in order to play baseball, a game in which he starred as catcher, although he was also greatly interested in the school's military training program. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the student battalion. One classmate described him as "indeed physically attractive without being handsome," but he was aloof, reserved and not generally popular at Claverack.
In the summer of 1888, Crane became his brother Townley's assistant and reported on the New Jersey shore. Crane's first signed publication was an article on the explorer Henry M. Stanley's famous quest to find the English missionary David Livingstone in Africa. It appeared in the February 1890 Claverack College Vidette. Within a few months, however, Crane was persuaded by his family to forgo a military career and transfer to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in order to pursue a mining engineering degree. He registered at Lafayette on September 12 and promptly became involved in extracurricular activities; he took up baseball once more and joined the largest fraternity, Delta Upsilon, and two rival groups: the Washington Literary Society and the Franklin Literary Society. Crane infrequently attended classes and ended the semester with grades for four of the seven courses he had taken. After only one semester, Crane transferred to Syracuse University where he enrolled as a non-degree candidate in the College of Liberal Arts. He roomed in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house and joined the baseball team. Attending merely one class (English Literature) during the middle trimester, he remained in residence while taking no courses in the third trimester.
Putting more emphasis on his writing, Crane began to experiment with tone and style while trying out different subjects. A fictional story of his called "Great Bugs of Onondaga" ran simultaneously in the Syracuse Daily Standard and the New York Tribune. Claiming that "college is a waste of time", Crane decided to become a newspaper reporter. Shortly after attending a Delta Upsilon chapter meeting on June 12, 1891, Crane left college for good.
In the fall of 1891, Stephen moved into his brother Edmund's house in Lake View, a suburb of Paterson, New Jersey. He began working as a full-time writer, making trips to New York and wandering into tenements. He also began exploring the Bowery, a small neighborhood in the southern portion of Manhattan that had once been a prosperous area. After the Civil War, however, its shops and mansions had given way to saloons, dance halls, brothels and flophouses, all of which Crane frequented for research purposes. He was attracted to the human nature witnessed in the slums, which he believed to be "open and plain, with nothing hidden". Believing that no writer had written anything sincere about the Bowery, Crane became determined to do so himself.
The end of that year was filled not only with inspiration, but also with tragedy; shortly before she fell ill for the last time, Crane's mother wrote to him to be good and "always independent, always honest". She died at the age of 64 on December 7 and the 20-year-old Crane appointed Edmund as his guardian. Despite being "frail", "undernourished" and suffering from "a hacking cough", which did not prevent him from smoking cigarettes, Crane began a brief romance with a married woman named Lily Brandon Munroe. Although Munroe would later say in an interview that Crane "was not a handsome man", she nonetheless admired his "remarkable almond-shaped gray eyes. He begged her to elope with him, but her family opposed the match because Crane lacked money and prospects, and she declined.
In October 1892, Crane moved into a rooming house in Manhattan inhabited by a group of medical students. His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, about a girl who "blossoms in a mud-puddle" and becomes a victim of circumstance, was written during this time. In the winter of 1893, Crane took the manuscript of Maggie to Richard Watson Gilder, who rejected it for publication in The Century Magazine. Crane decided to publish it privately; it was eventually published in late February or early March 1893 by a small printing shop that usually printed medical books and religious tracts. The typewritten title page read simply: "A Girl of the Streets, / A Story of New York. / —By—/Stephen Crane." The name "Maggie" was added to the title later. Crane used the pseudonym "Johnston Smith" for this initial publication, later telling friend and artist Corwin Knapp Linson that the nom de plume was the "commonest name I could think of. I had an editor friend named Johnson, and put in the "t", and no one could find me in the mob of Smiths. The earliest known review of Crane's work, which appeared on March 13, 1894, in the Port Jervis Union, stated that "the pathos of [Maggie's] sad story will be deeply felt by all susceptible persons who read the book. Despite this early praise, Crane became depressed and destitute from having spent $869 for 1,100 copies of a novel that did not sell; he ended up giving a hundred copies away. He would later remember "how I looked forward to publication and pictured the sensation I thought it would make. It fell flat. Nobody seemed to notice it or care for it... Poor Maggie! She was one of my first loves.
In March 1893, Crane spent hours lounging in Linson's studio while having his portrait painted. He became fascinated with issues of the Century that were largely devoted to famous battles and military leaders from the Civil War. Frustrated with the dryly written stories, Crane stated, "I wonder that some of those fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps. They spout enough of what they did, but they're as emotionless as rocks. Crane returned to these magazines during subsequent visits to Linson's studio, and eventually the idea of writing a war novel overtook him. He would later state that he "had been unconsciously working the detail of the story out through most of his boyhood" and had imagined "war stories ever since he was out of knickerbockers. This novel would ultimately become The Red Badge of Courage.
|"A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills."|
|— Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage|
While working on his second novel, Crane remained prolific, concentrating on publishing stories to stave off poverty; "An Experiment in Misery", based on Crane's experiences in the Bowery, was printed by the New York Press. He also wrote five or six poems a day. In early 1894, he showed some of his poems, or "lines" as he called them, to Hamlin Garland, who said he read "some thirty in all" with "growing wonder. Although Garland and William Dean Howells encouraged him to submit his poetry for publication, Crane's free verse was too unconventional for most. After brief wrangling between poet and publisher, Copeland & Day accepted Crane's first book of poems, The Black Riders and Other Lines. He received a 10 percent royalty, and the publisher assured him that the book would be in a form "more severely classic than any book ever yet issued in America.
In the spring of 1894, Crane offered the finished manuscript of The Red Badge of Courage to McClure's Magazine, which had become the foremost magazine for Civil War literature. While McClure's delayed giving him an answer on his novel, they offered him an assignment writing about the Pennsylvania coal mines. "In the Depths of a Coal Mine", a story with pictures by Linson, was syndicated by McClure's in a number of newspapers, heavily edited. Crane was reportedly disgusted by the cuts, asking Linson: "Why the hell did they send me up there then? Do they want the public to think the coal mines gilded ball-rooms with the miners eating ice-cream in boiled shirt-fronts?
After discovering that McClure's could not afford to pay him, Crane took his war novel to Irving Bacheller of the Bacheller-Johnson Newspaper Syndicate, which agreed to publish The Red Badge of Courage in serial form. Between the third and the ninth of December 1894, The Red Badge of Courage began appearing in some half-dozen newspapers in the United States. Although it was greatly cut for syndication, Bacheller attested to its causing a stir, saying "its quality [was] immediately felt and recognized. The lead editorial in the Philadelphia Press of December 7 said that Crane "is a new name now and unknown, but everybody will be talking about him if he goes on as he has begun".
At the end of January 1895, Crane left on what he called "a very long and circuitous newspaper trip" to the west. While writing feature articles for the Bacheller syndicate, he traveled to Saint Louis, Missouri, Nebraska, New Orleans, Galveston, Texas and then Mexico City. Irving Bacheller would later state that he "sent Crane to Mexico for new color", which the author found in the form of Mexican slum life. Whereas he found the lower class in New York pitiful, he was impressed by the "superiority" of the Mexican peasants' contentment and "even refuse[d] to pity them. Returning to New York five months later, Crane joined the Lantern (alternately spelled "Lanthom" or "Lanthorne") Club organized by a group of young writers and journalists. The Club, located on the roof of an old house on William Street near the Brooklyn Bridge, served as a drinking establishment of sorts and was made to look like a ship's cabin. There Crane ate one good meal a day, although friends worried about his "constant smoking, too much coffee, lack of food and poor teeth," as Nelson Greene put it. Living in near-poverty and greatly anticipating the publication of his books, Crane began work on two more novels: The Third Violet and George's Mother.
The Black Riders was published by Copeland & Day shortly before his return to New York in May, but it received mostly criticism if not abuse for the poems' unconventional style and use of free verse. A piece in the Bookman called Crane "the Aubrey Beardsley of poetry and a commentator from the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean stated that "there is not a line of poetry from the opening to the closing page. Whitman's Leaves of Grass were luminous in comparison. Poetic lunacy would be a better name for the book. In June, the New York Tribune dismissed the book as "so much trash. Crane, however, was pleased that the book was "making some stir".
In sharp contrast to the reception for Crane's poetry, The Red Badge of Courage was welcomed with great acclaim after its publication by Appleton in September 1895. For the next four months the book was in the top six on various bestseller lists around the country. It arrived on the literary scene "like a flash of lightning out of a clear winter sky," according to H. L. Mencken, who was about 15 at the time. The novel also became popular in England; Joseph Conrad, a future friend of Crane, wrote that the novel "detonated... with the impact and force of a twelve-inch shell charged with a very high explosive." Appleton published two, possibly three, printings in 1895 and as many as eleven more in 1896. Although some critics considered the work overly graphic and profane, it was widely heralded for its realistic portrayal of war and unique writing style. The Detroit Free Press declared that "The Red Badge" would give readers "so vivid a picture of the emotions and the horrors of the battlefield that you will pray your eyes may never look upon the reality.
Wanting to capitalize on the success of "The Red Badge", McClure Syndicate offered Crane a contract to write a series on Civil War battlefields. Because it was a wish of his to "visit the battlefield—which I was to describe—at the time of year when it was fought," Crane agreed to take the assignment. Visiting battlefields in Northern Virginia, including Fredericksburg, he would later produce five more Civil War tales: "Three Miraculous Soldiers", "The Veteran", "An Indiana Campaign", "An Episode of War", and "The Little Regiment".
A couple weeks after her trial, Clark pressed charges of false arrest against the officer who had arrested her. The next day, the officer physically attacked Clark in the presence of witnesses for having brought charges against him. Crane, who initially went briefly to Philadelphia to escape the pressure of publicity, returned to New York to give testimony at Becker's trial despite advice given to him from Theodore Roosevelt, who was Police Commissioner at the time and a new acquaintance of Crane. Crane became a target for the defense in that the police raided his apartment and interviewed people who knew him, attempting to find incriminating evidence in order to lessen his testimony. A vigorous cross-examination took place that sought to portray Crane as a man of dubious morals; while the prosecution proved that he frequented brothels, Crane claimed this was merely for research purposes. After the trial ended on October 16, the arresting officer was exonerated, but Crane's reputation was ruined.
Given $700 in Spanish gold by the Bacheller-Johnson syndicate to work as a war correspondent in Cuba, Crane left New York on November 27 on a train bound for Jacksonville, Florida. Upon arrival in Jacksonville, he registered at the St. James Hotel under the alias of Samuel Carleton to maintain anonymity while seeking passage to Cuba. While waiting for a boat, he toured the city and visited the local brothels. Within days he met 31-year-old Cora Taylor, proprietor of the downtown bawdy house Hotel de Dream. Born into a respectable Boston family, Taylor (whose legal name was Cora Ethel Stewart) had already had two brief marriages; her first husband, Vinton Murphy, divorced her on grounds of adultery. In 1889, she had married Captain Donald William Stewart, whom she left in 1892 for another man. By the time Crane arrived, Taylor had been in Jacksonville for two years. She lived a bohemian lifestyle but was also a well-known and respected local figure. The two spent much time together while Crane awaited his departure. He was finally cleared to leave for the Cuban port of Cienfuegas on New Year's Eve aboard the SS Commodore.
|"None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea."|
|— Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat|
The disaster was widely reported on the front pages of newspapers across the country. Rumors that the ship had been sabotaged were widely circulated but never substantiated. Portrayed favorably and heroically by the press, Crane emerged from the ordeal with his reputation enhanced, if not restored, after the battering he received during the Dora Clark affair. Meanwhile, Crane's affair with Taylor quickly blossomed.
On March 20, they sailed first to England, where Crane was warmly received. They arrived in Athens in early April; between April 17 (when Turkey declared war on Greece) and April 22, Crane wrote his first published report of the war, "An Impression of the 'Concert' ". When he left for Epirus in the northwest, Taylor remained in Athens, where she became the Greek war's first woman war correspondent. She wrote under the pseudonym "Imogene Carter" for the New York Journal, a job that Crane had secured for her. They wrote frequently, traveling throughout the country separately or together. The first large battle that Crane witnessed was the Turks' assault on General Constantine Smolenski's Greek forces at Velestino. Crane wrote, "It is a great thing to survey the army of the enemy. Just where and how it takes hold upon the heart is difficult of description. During this battle, Crane encountered "a fat waddling puppy" that he immediately claimed, dubbing it "Velestino, the Journal dog". An armistice was signed between Greece and Turkey on May 20, ending the 30-day war; Crane and Cora left Greece for England, taking two Greek brothers as servants and Velestino the dog with them.
Although Crane was confident among peers, strong negative reviews of the recently-published The Third Violet was causing his literary reputation to dwindle. Reviewers were also highly critical of Crane's war letters, deeming them self-centered. Although The Red Badge of Courage had by this time gone through fourteen printings in the United States and six in England, Crane was running out of money. To survive financially, he worked at a feverish pitch, writing prolifically for both the English and the American markets. He wrote in quick succession stories such as "The Monster", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky", "Death and the Child" and "The Blue Hotel". Crane began to attach price tags to his new works of fiction, hoping that "The Bride", for example, would fetch $175. As 1897 ended, however, Crane's money crisis worsened. Amy Leslie, a reporter from Chicago and a former lover of his, sued him for $550. The New York Times reported that Leslie gave him $800 in November 1896 but that he had only repaid her a quarter of the sum. In February, he was summoned to answer Leslie's claim. The claim, however, was apparently settled out of court, because no record of adjudication exists. Meanwhile, Crane felt "heavy with troubles" and "chased to the wall" by expenses. He confided to his agent that he was $2,000 in debt but that he would "beat it" with more literary output.
Soon after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, under suspicious circumstances, Crane tried to join the Navy but was found physically unfit. Crane's health was failing, and it is believed that signs of his pulmonary tuberculosis, which he may have contracted in childhood, became apparent. He was then offered a £60 advance by Blackwood's Magazine for articles "from the seat of war in the event of a war breaking out" between the United States and Spain. With almost no money coming in from his finished stories, Stephen accepted the assignment and left Oxted for New York. Cora and the rest of the household stayed behind to fend off local creditors. Crane applied for a passport and left New York for Key West two days before Congress declared war. While the war idled, however, he interviewed people and produced occasional copy. In early June, he observed establishment of an American base in Cuba when Marines seized Guantanamo Bay. He then went ashore with the Marines, planning "to gather impressions and write them as the spirit moved. Although he would write honestly about his fear in battle, others observed his calmness and composure. He would later recall "this prolonged tragedy of the night" in the war tale "Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo". After showing a willingness to serve during fighting at Cuzco, Cuba, by carrying messages to company commanders, Crane was officially cited for his "material aid during the action".
He continued to report upon various battles and the worsening military conditions and praised Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders despite past tensions with the Commissioner. In early July, however, Crane was sent to the United States for medical treatment for a high fever. He was diagnosed with yellow fever, then malaria. Upon arrival in Old Point Comfort, Virginia, he spent a few weeks resting in a hotel. Although Crane had filed more than twenty dispatches in the three months he had covered the war, the World's business manager believed that the paper had not received its money's worth and fired him. In retaliation, Crane signed with Hearst's New York Journal with the wish to return to Cuba. He traveled first to Puerto Rico and then to Havana. In September, rumors began to spread that Crane, who was working anonymously, had either been killed or had simply disappeared. He nonetheless sporadically sent out dispatches and stories; he wrote about the mood in Havana, the crowded city sidewalks, and other various topics, but he was soon desperate for money again. Cora, left alone in England, was also penniless. She became frantic with worry over her lover's whereabouts; they were not in direct communication until the end of the year. Crane finally left Havana and arrived in England on January 11, 1899.
Rent on Ravensbrook had not been paid for a year. Upon returning to England, Crane secured a solicitor to act as guarantor for their debts, after which Stephen and Cora relocated to Brede Place. This manor in Sussex, which dated to the 14th century and had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing, was offered to them by friends at a modest rent. The relocation appeared to give hope to Crane, but his money problems continued. Deciding that he could no longer afford to write for American publications, he concentrated on publishing in English magazines.
Crane pushed himself to write feverishly during the first months at Brede; he told his publisher that he was "doing more work now than I have at any other period in my life". His health worsened, and by the fall of 1899 he was asking friends about health resorts. The Monster and Other Stories was in production and War Is Kind, his second collection of poems, was published in the United States in May. None of his books after The Red Badge of Courage had sold well, however, and he bought a typewriter in order to spur output. Active Service, a novella based on Crane's correspondence experience, was published in October to mixed reviews. The New York Times reviewer in particular questioned "whether the author of 'Active Service' himself really sees anything remarkable in his newspapery hero.
In December, the Cranes held an elaborate Christmas party at Brede, attended by Joseph Conrad, Henry James, H. G. Wells and other friends, that spanned several days. On December 29, Crane suffered a severe hemorrhage of the lungs. In January 1900 he had recovered sufficiently to work on a new novel, The O'Ruddy, completing 25 of the 33 chapters. Although plans were made for him to travel as a correspondent to Gibraltar to write sketches from Saint Helena, the site of a Boer prison, at the end of March and in early April he suffered two more massive hemorrhages. Cora took over most of Crane's correspondence while he was ill, writing to friends for monetary aid. The couple planned to travel on the continent, but Conrad, upon visiting Crane for the last time, remarked that his friend's "wasted face was enough to tell me that it was the most forlorn of all hopes.
On May 28, Stephen and Cora arrived at Badenweiler, Germany, a health spa near the Black Forest. Despite his weakened condition, Crane continued to dictate fragmentary episodes for the completion of The O'Ruddy. He died on June 5, 1900, at the age of 28. In his will he left everything to Cora, who took his body to New York for burial. Crane was interred in the Evergreen Cemetery in what is now Hillside, New Jersey.
Poet and biographer John Berryman suggested that there were three basic variations, or "norms", of Crane's narrative style. The first, being "flexible, swift, abrupt and nervous", is best exemplified in The Red Badge of Courage, while the second ("supple majesty") is believed to relate to "The Open Boat", and the third ("much more closed, circumstantial and 'normal' in feeling and syntax') to later stories such as "The Monster". Crane's work, however, cannot be determined by style solely on chronology. Not only does his fiction not take place in any particular region with similar characters, but it varies from serious in tone to reportorial writing and light fiction. Crane's writing, both fiction and nonfiction, is consistently driven by immediacy and is at once concentrated, vivid and intense. The novels and short stories contain poetic characteristics such as shorthand prose, suggestibility, shifts in perspective and ellipses between and within sentences. Similarly, omission plays a large part in Crane's work; the names of his protagonists are not commonly used and sometimes they are not named at all.
Crane was often criticized by early reviewers for his frequent incorporation of everyday speech into dialogue, mimicking the regional accents of his characters with colloquial stylization. This is apparent in his first novel, in which Crane ignored the romantic, sentimental approach of slum fiction; he instead concentrated on the cruelness and sordidness of poverty, using the brashness of the Bowery's crude dialect and profanity, which is used lavishly. The distinct dialect that his Bowery characters use is apparent when the title character admonishes her brother at the beginning of the text, saying: "Yeh knows it puts mudder out when yes comes home half dead, an' it's like we'll all get a poundin'.
Extreme isolation from society and community is also a heavily utilized theme in Crane's work. During the most intense battle scenes in The Red Badge of Courage, for example, the story's focus is predominately "on the inner responses of a self unaware of others". In "The Open Boat", "An Experiment in Misery" and other short stories, Crane uses experiments with light, motion and color to express different degrees of epistemological uncertainty. Similar to other Naturalistic works, Crane scrutinizes the position of man, who has been isolated not only from society, but from God and nature. "The Open Boat", for example, distances itself from the old Romantic optimism and affirmation of man's place in the world by concentrating on the characters' isolation.
Written thirty years after the end of the Civil War and before Crane had any experience of battle, The Red Badge of Courage was innovative stylistically as well as psychologically. Often described as a war novel, it focuses less on battle and more on the main character's psyche and his reactions and responses in a wartime situation. Told in a third-person limited point of view, it reflects the private experience of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who flees from combat, rather than upon the external world. The Red Badge of Courage is notable in its vivid descriptions and well cadenced prose, both of which help create suspense within the story. Like Crane's first novel, The Red Badge of Courage has a heavily ironic tone which increases in its severity as the novel progresses. The title of the work itself is ironic; Henry wishes "that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage", echoing a wish to have been wounded in battle. The wound he does receive (from the rifle butt of a fleeing Union soldier), however, is not a badge of courage but a badge of shame.
There is a strong connection in the novel between humankind and nature, a frequent and prominent concern in Crane's fiction and poetry throughout his career. Whereas contemporary writers (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau) focused on a sympathetic bond on the two elements, Crane wrote from the perspective that human consciousness distanced humans from nature. In The Red Badge of Courage, this distance is paired with a great number of references to animals, and men with animalistic characteristics: people "howl", "squawk", "growl", or "snarl". Since the resurgence of Crane's popularity in the 1920s, The Red Badge of Courage has been deemed a major American text. The novel has been anthologized numerous times, including in Ernest Hemingway's 1942 collection Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time. In the introduction, Hemingway wrote that the novel "is one of the finest books of our literature, and I include it entire because it is all as much of a piece as a great poem is.
Crane's later novels have not received as much critical recognition, however. After the success of The Red Badge of Courage, Crane chose to write another tale set in the Bowery. George's Mother is less allegorical and more personal than his two previous novels, and it focuses on the conflict between a church-going, temperance-adhering woman (thought to be based on Crane's own mother) and her single remaining offspring, who is a naive dreamer. Critical response to the novel was mixed. The Third Violet a romance that was written quickly after the publication of The Red Badge of Courage, is typically considered as Crane's attempt to appeal to the popular audience. Crane considered it a "quiet little story", and although it contained autobiographical details, the characters have been deemed inauthentic and stereotypical. Crane's second to last novel, Active Service, revolves around the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, with which the author was well acquainted. Although noted for its satirical take on the melodramatic and highly passionate works that were popular of the nineteenth century, the novel was not successful. It is generally accepted by critics that Crane's work suffered at this point due to the speed which he wrote in order to meet high expenses. His last novel, a suspenseful and picaresque work entitled The O'Ruddy, was finished posthumously by Robert Barr and published in 1903.
In a 1896 interview with Herbert P. Williams, a reporter for the Boston Herald, Crane stated that he did "not find that short stories are utterly different in character from other fiction. It seems to me that short stories are the easiest things we write. During his brief literary career, he wrote more than a hundred short stories and fictional sketches. The majority of scholarly attention paid to his short fiction has centered on four specific stories: "The Open Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky", and "The Monster". The subject matter for these stories and others varied extensively: his early New York City sketches and Bowery tales accurately described the results of industrialization, immigration and the growth of cities and their slums. His collection of short stories, The Little Regiment, covered familiar ground with the American Civil War, a subject that made him famous with The Red Badge of Courage. He wrote many stories that echoed events in his life, such as tales that took place during the Spanish-American War ("Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo") and the infamous shipwreck of the Commodore ("The Open Boat"). H. G. Wells considered "The Open Boat" to be "beyond all question, the crown of all his work", and it is one of the most frequently discussed works in Crane's canon.
| Many red devils ran from my heart|
And out upon the page.
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.
|— Stephen Crane|
Critic Ruth Miller claimed that Crane wrote "an intellectual poetry rather than a poetry that evokes feeling, a poetry that stimulates the mind rather than arouses the heart". In the most complexly organized poems, the significance of the states of mind or feelings is ambiguous, but Crane's poems tend to affirm certain elemental attitudes, beliefs, opinions and stances toward God, man and the universe. The Black Riders in particular is essentially a dramatic concept and the poems provide continuity within the dramatic structure. There is also a dramatic interplay in which there is frequently a major voice reporting an incident seen ("In the desert / I saw a creature, naked, bestial") or experienced ("A learned man came to me once"). The second voice or additional voices represent a point of view which is revealed to be inferior; when these clash, a dominant attitude emerges.
In four years, Stephen Crane had published five novels, two volumes of poetry, three short story collections, two books of war stories, and numerous works of short fiction and reporting. Today, however, he is mainly remembered for The Red Badge of Courage, which is heralded as an American classic. The novel has been adapted several times for the screen, including a successful 1951 film by John Huston. By the time of his death, Crane had become one of the best known writers of his generation. His eccentric lifestyle, frequent newspaper reporting, association with other famous authors, and self-expatriation made him somewhat of an international celebrity. Although most stories about his life tended toward the romantic, rumors about his alleged drug use and alcoholism persisted long after his death.
By the early 1920s, however, Crane and his work were nearly forgotten. It was not until Thomas Beer published his biography in 1923, which was then followed by editor Wilson Follett's The Work of Stephen Crane (1925–1927), that Crane's writing came to the attention of a scholarly audience. Crane's reputation was then enhanced by faithful support from friends such as Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells and Ford Maddox Ford, all who either published recollections or commented upon their time with Crane. John Berryman's 1950 biography of Crane similarly established him as an important American author. Since 1951 there has been a steady outpouring of articles, monographs and reprints in Crane scholarship.
Today, Crane is considered one of the most innovative writers of the 1890s. His peers, including Conrad and James, as well as later writers such as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound and Willa Cather, hailed Crane as one of the finest creative spirits of his time. His work was described by Wells as "the first expression of the opening mind of a new period, or, at least, the early emphatic phase of a new initiative." Wells also went farther in saying that "beyond dispute", Crane was "the best writer of our generation, and his untimely death was an irreparable loss to our literature. Conrad wrote that Crane was an "artist" and "a seer with a gift for rendering the significant on the surface of things and with an incomparable insight into primitive emotions". Crane's work has proved inspirational for future writers; not only have scholars drawn similarities between Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and The Red Badge of Courage, but Crane's fiction is thought to have been an important inspiration for Hemingway and his fellow Modernists. In 1936, Hemingway wrote in The Green Hills of Africa that "The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain. That's not the order they're good in. There is no order for good writers. Crane's poetry is thought to have been a precursor to the Imagist movement, and his short fiction has also left an impression on American literature; "The Open Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Monster" and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" are generally considered by critics to be examples of Crane's best work.
Several institutions and places have endeavored to keep Crane's legacy alive. Badenweiler and the house where he died became something of a tourist attraction for its fleeting association with the American author; Alexander Woolcott attested to the fact that, long after Crane's death, tourists would be directed to the room where he died. Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library has a collection of Crane and Cora's personal correspondence dating from 1895 to 1908. The Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where the author lived with his family for nine years, serves as a museum dedicated to his life and work.