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STEPHEN CRANE

1871-1900

Often considered the first modern American writer

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Stephen Crane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Formal portrait of Stephen Crane taken inWashington, D.C., about March 1896

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. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.

The eighth surviving child of highly devout parents, Crane was raised in several New Jersey towns and Port Jervis, New York. He began writing at the age of 4 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.

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 with whom he would have a lasting relationship. 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". During the final years of his life, he covered conflicts in Greece and Cuba, and lived in England with Cora, where he befriended writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. 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 important 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, as well as distinctive dialects and irony. Common themes involve fear, spiritual crisis and social isolation. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, which has become an American classic, Crane is also known for his unconventional poetry and heralded for short stories such as "The Open Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky", and The Monster. His writing made a deep impression on 20th century writers, most prominent among them Ernest Hemingway, and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists.

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 Biography

 Early years

Stephen Crane was born November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, to Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church, and Mary Helen Peck Crane, a clergyman's daughter.[1] He was the fourteenth and last child born to the couple; the 45 year old Helen Crane had lost her four previous children, who each died within one year of birth.[2] Nicknamed "Stevie" by the family, he joined eight surviving brothers and sisters—Mary Helen, George Peck, Jonathan Townley, William Howe, Agnes Elizabeth, Edmund Byran, Wilbur Fiske, and Luther.[3]

The Cranes were descended from Jaspar Crane, a founder of New Haven Colony, who had traveled there from England in 1639.[4] Stephen was named for a supposed founder of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, who had, according to family tradition, come from England or Wales as early as 1665,[5] as well as his great-great grandfather Stephen Crane (1709–1780), a Revolutionary War patriot who served as New Jersey delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.[6] Crane would later write that his father, Dr. Crane, "was a great, fine, simple mind" who had written numerous tracts on theology.[7] Although his mother was a popular spokeswoman for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and a highly religious woman, Crane did not believe that "she was as narrow as most of her friends or family."[8] The young Stephen was raised primarily by his sister Agnes, who was 15 years his senior.[6] In 1876, the family moved to Port Jervis, New York, where Dr. Crane became the pastor of Drew Methodist Church, a position that he retained until his death.[6]

As a child, Stephen was often sickly and afflicted by constant colds.[9] When the boy was almost two, his father wrote in his diary 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.[3] 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?"[10] In December 1879, Crane wrote a poem about wanting a dog for Christmas. Entitled "I'd Rather Have –", it is his first surviving poem.[11] Stephen was not regularly enrolled in school until January 1880,[12] 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."[13]

Dr. Crane died on February 16, 1880, at the age of 60; Stephen was eight years old. Some 1,400 people mourned Dr. Crane at his funeral, more than double the size of his congregation.[14] After her husband's death, Mrs. Crane moved to Roseville, near Newark. She left Stephen in the care of his brother Edmund, with whom the young boy lived with cousins in Sussex County. He then lived with his brother William in Port Jervis for several years, until he and his sister Helen 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.[15] 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.[16]


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