Article abstract: Crane is best remembered for his war novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895); he also wrote estimable poetry and more than a dozen other novels and collections of stories.
Stephen Crane, the youngest son of a youngest son, was the last of fourteen children born to the Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane and his wife, Mary Peck. Crane’s father was a presiding elder of the Newark, New Jersey, district of the Methodist Church (1868-1872) when Stephen was born and served in a similar capacity in the Elizabeth, New Jersey, district of the church from 1872 until 1876. Because Methodist clergymen were subject to frequent transfer, the young Stephen was moved from Newark to Paterson, New Jersey, before he was old enough to attend school and to Port Jervis, New York, shortly before he began school. His The Third Violet (1897) and Whilomville Stories (1900) are set in villages modeled after Port Jervis.
Crane’s father died in 1880, when the boy was eight years old, and, in 1883, Stephen and his mother moved to Asbury Park, New Jersey, a seaside resort some sixty miles from New York City, to be near the Methodist camp community of Ocean Grove, a town adjacent to Asbury Park, which Jonathan Crane had been instrumental in establishing. Stephen’s brother Townley already ran a press bureau in Asbury Park, and soon their sister Agnes moved there to teach in the public schools.
As Stephen strayed from the religious teachings of the Methodist Church, his mother became concerned about his spiritual welfare, and, in 1885, she sent him to Pennington Seminary, some ten miles from both Trenton and Princeton, in the hope that he would receive a solid academic background and would simultaneously grow closer to the Church. Crane’s father had been principal of Pennington Seminary for the decade from 1848 to 1858, and his mother had spent the first ten years of her marriage at Pennington.
Stephen, a handsome, dark-haired youth with a prominent nose, sensuous lips, and deep, dark eyes, rankled under Pennington’s strong religious emphasis. In 1888, he enrolled in the Hudson River Institute in Claverack, New York, a coeducational institution with a military emphasis for its male students. It was perhaps during this period that Crane became extremely interested in war.
During the summers, Crane assisted his brother in his news bureau, learning something about journalism as he went about his work. He entered Lafayette College in 1890 to study engineering, but failed in his work there and left after the Christmas holiday to attend Syracuse University, where he played baseball, managed the baseball team, and worked on the school newspaper. He was not a strong student, and he left school in 1891 to seek his fortune in New York City. His mother died on December 7 of that year.
Stephen, who had met and established a friendship with Hamlin Garland in the summer of 1891, tried to make his living as a newspaperman, but he was not initially successful in this work. In 1892, however, the serial publication of seven of his “Sullivan County Sketches” gave him the encouragement he needed to pursue a literary career diligently.
Buoyed up by seeing his work in print, Crane, in 1893, paid for a private printing of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), a book gleaned from his experience of living in New York City’s Bowery during the preceding two years. This early work, highly shocking in its time because it views with sympathy a girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock and shows the hypocrisy of her lower-class family’s morality, was first published under the pseudonym Johnston Smith.
Maggie was unabashedly naturalistic, somewhat in the tradition of Émile Zola. Despite William Dean Howells’s attempts to get the book distributed, it sold hardly any copies in its original edition. In 1896, however, Crane revised it, cutting out much of its offensive profanity, omitting some of its graphic description, and regularizing the grammar and punctuation. His reputation had by this time been established with the publication, the preceding October, of The Red Badge of Courage, a book that grew out of Crane’s fascination with war, battles, and men in combat. Maggie, although it still was deemed shocking to delicate sensibilities, was more favorably received in 1896 than it had been three years earlier.
The Red Badge of Courage existed in some form in 1894, when it was published abridged in newspapers by the Bacheller Syndicate. George’s Mother (1896) appeared two years later, and in its use of realistic detail it goes far beyond that of William Dean Howells, who had become Crane’s friend.
With the publication of both The Black Riders and Other Lines and The Red Badge of Courage in 1895, Crane became an overnight celebrity. In March of that year, he also went to Mexico for the...
(The entire section is 2058 words.)