Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets was first published at his own expense in 1893. Literary critic William Dean Howells was so impressed with the novel that he helped get it published by D. Appleton and Company in 1896. Maggie came to be regarded as one of Crane’s finest and most eloquent statements on environmental determinism.
The story centers on Maggie Johnson, a pretty young woman who struggles to survive the brutal environment of the Bowery, a New York City slum, at the end of the nineteenth century. Abused by an alcoholic mother and victimized by the overwhelming poverty of the slums, Maggie falls in love with a charming bartender, who, she tells herself, will help her escape her harsh life. Maggie’s relationship with Pete compounds her suffering, however, when her family and her neighbors condemn her. Eventually abandoned by her lover, as well as her family, Maggie is forced to make a living on the cruel city streets. Crane’s unblinking depiction of the devastating environmental forces that ultimately destroy this young, hopeful woman was celebrated as one of the most important documents of American Naturalism.