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Stephen Crane  

Although he only lived a short time, Stephen Crane wrote the famous novel "The Red Badge of Courage" as well as "Maggie, A Girl of the Streets" and short stories, most notably "The Open Boat."
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Stephen Crane ( 1871-1900)

 

Brief Biography

Stephen Crane was a native of New Jersey, born in the city of Newark in 1871.   He was the last child in a family of 14 children.  His father was a minister and his mother was a writer and suffragist.  Because of the large family, Crane was raised by his older sister, Agnes, with whom he was very close.  ( and who also died at a young age).  Crane received a very good primary school education. He spent only two years as a college student, first at Lafayete College and then at Syracuse University where he was a member of the baseball team.  Adrift for a short time, he moved to Paterson, New Jersey to live with one of his brothers.

Crane was attracted to the hustle and bussle of New York City.  He moved to New York in the early 1890's and began to work as a freelance writer.  He worked for the New York Tribune.  He wanted to learn how the poor and downtrodden survived in a large city, with its crime, unsanitary conditions and poverty.  He thus  spent time in the Bowery, an area of New York known for it saloons, brothels and dance halls.  Crane was fascinated with this life, something he did not know as a child.   Many Bowery residents lived on the edge, hand to mouth, surviving on petty crime or very low wage jobs.  Crane had great sympathy for these people, especially the young ones who did not have much of a future, who were stuck in a cycle of poverty.  As early as 1893 Crane wrote an early draft of "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets."   He rewrote it while living in New York.  It was a realistic, compassionate story of a young, naive girl who becomes a prostitute in order to survive and eventually commits suicide.  The descriptions of slum life were so vivid that publishers would not touch it.  Crane was forced to pubish the book himself at his own expense.  He used a pseudonym.  In 1896, Crane revised some of the most vivid and shocking passages of the book.  He found a publisher and the book received wide recognition.  It helped that Crane's name was known because in 1895 he published his most famous novel "The Red Badge of Courage."  The story is about the emotions and experiences of a young Civil War soldier.  The realistic descriptions of conflict and emotions of the soldiers, especially the main character are all the more remarkable because Crane never experienced actual combat.  His ability to translate his research into a novel that actual soldiers found realistic is a testament to Crane's skill as a writer.  Crane became a war correspondent and in 1897 he set sail to Cuba, only to be shipwrecked. He spent more than a day adrift with a few other men and finally swam to shore.  He used this ordeal as material for his well known short story "The Open Boat."  In April, 1898, he travelled to Greece to report on the Greco-Turkish War.  A woman named Cora Taylor went with him. A person with a colorful past, she was not afraid of the fighting.  Married, but unable to get a divorce, she became Crane's common law wife.   They went to England where Crane continued to write.  He became good friends with Joseph Conrad.

Crane followed a lavish lifestyle, well beyond his means.  The financial pressures, coupled with the diseases he caught while living in the Bowery and tropical climates began to take their toll on the young man.  In May 1900, he and Cora went to a health spa near the Black Forest in Germany.  Crane rallied for a brief time but then grew weaker due to the tuberculosis he caught while living in New York.  On June 5, 1900 he died at the young age of 28, the same age as her beloved sister Agnes had died.  Cora faithfully cared for him until the end.   Biographers have written that Crane accepted his fate and died with courage and dignity.

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