The Red Badge of Courage Notes
by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage book cover
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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871, the last of fourteen children in a devout Methodist family. Son to a roaming minister, Crane soon left his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey, to begin a life of wandering. His schooling was short-lived, and Crane began a writing career by going to work with his brother on a newspaper in New York.

Crane's first serious attempt to publish a novel was unsuccessful. In Maggie: A Girl of the Street, Crane wrote about the harsh realities of a prostitute's life, but the novel's abrasive material made it impossible for him to obtain a publisher. Finally, he borrowed money to have his novel printed, but few copies sold. Crane's next endeavor, The Red Badge of Courage, proved successful. What began as a serial newspaper story was published as a novel in 1895. The following year, Crane tired of the lifestyle of an author and sought change. Intermittently over the rest of his life, he did publish books of poetry, which were not well accepted by the public.

Crane's thirst for new experiences led him to Cuba, to cover its rebellion against Spain. While in Florida, though, he met and fell in love with Cora Taylor, a married woman. Believing no future with Cora was possible, Crane continued his travels, this time to Greece, where he worked as a war correspondent. While in Greece, Cora unexpectedly joined Crane, and the couple then moved to Sussex, England.

In 1898, Crane once again traveled to Cuba as a war correspondent, this time during the Spanish-American War. While in Cuba, however, he contracted malaria, and his health rapidly deteriorated. Stephen Crane died from tuberculosis in 1900, at the age of 29.