Stephen Crane Crane, Stephen

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(Short Story Criticism)

Stephen Crane 1871–-1900

(Full name Stephen Townley Crane; also wrote under the pseudonym Johnston Smith) American short story writer, novelist, poet, and journalist.

The following entry presents criticism of Crane's short fiction works from 1991 to 2001. See also, "The Open Boat" Criticism.

Crane was one of America's foremost writers of realism, and his works have been credited with marking the beginning of modern American naturalism. His Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is a classic of American literature that realistically depicts the psychological complexities of fear and courage on the battlefield. Influenced by William Dean Howells's theory of realism, Crane utilized keen observations, as well as personal experience, to achieve a narrative vividness and sense of immediacy realized by few American writers before him. Although The Red Badge of Courage is acknowledged as his masterpiece, the often-anthologized short stories “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” are considered among the most skillfully crafted stories in American literature.

Biographical Information

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Crane was the youngest in a family of fourteen children. His desire to write was inspired by his family: his father, a Methodist minister, and his mother, a devout woman dedicated to social concerns, were writers of religious articles, and two of his brothers were journalists. Crane began his higher education in 1888 at the Hudson River Institute and later enrolled at Claverack College, a military school that nurtured his interest in Civil War studies and military training—knowledge he later used in The Red Badge of Courage. During two subsequent and respective semesters at Lafayette College and Syracuse University, Crane was distinguished more for his prowess on the baseball diamond and football field than for his ability in the classroom. During his college years, however, Crane also began his writing career. He worked as a “stringer” for his brother's news service. In 1891, deciding that “humanity was a more interesting study” than the college curriculum, Crane quit school to work full time as a reporter with his brother and part time for the New York Tribune. In 1893, after several publishers had rejected his manuscript of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) on the grounds that his grim descriptions of slum realities would shock readers, Crane privately published this first novel under a pseudonym. His second novel, The Red Badge of Courage, won him international fame following its publication in 1895. During the mid-1890s Crane continued to work as a journalist, traveling throughout the American West and Mexico for a news syndicate. He later used his experiences as the basis for fictional works, including the stories in his early short fiction collections The Little Regiment, and other Episodes of the American Civil War (1896) and The Open Boat, and Other Tales of Adventure (1898). In 1897, Crane met Cora Taylor, proprietor of the dubiously named Hotel de Dream, a combination hotel, night-club, and brothel. Together as common-law husband and wife they moved to England, where Crane formed literary friendships with Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, and Henry James. By 1900 Crane's health had rapidly deteriorated due to his own general disregard for his physical well-being. After several respiratory attacks, Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight in 1900.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Although Crane achieved the pinnacle of his success with the novel The Red Badge of Courage, many critics believe that he demonstrated his greatest literary strength as a short story writer. Such stories as “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Monster ” are widely anthologized and are considered among his major achievements in the genre. “The Open Boat” is based on Crane's experience as a correspondent shipwrecked while on a filibustering...

(The entire section is 74,413 words.)