The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895, when its author, an impoverished writer living a bohemian life in New York, was only twenty-three. It immediately became a bestseller, and Stephen Crane became famous. Crane set out to create 'a psychological portrayal of fear.' Henry Fleming, a Union Army volunteer in the Civil War, thinks 'that perhaps in a battle he might run. . . . As far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.' And he does run in his first battle, full of fear and then remorse. He encounters a grotesquely rotting corpse propped against a tree, and a column of wounded men, one of whom is a friend who dies horribly in front of him. Fleming receives his own 'red badge' when a fellow soldier hits him in the head with a gun. 'The idea of falling like heroes on ceremonial battlefields,' Ford Madox Ford remarked later, 'was gone forever.'
Stephen Townly Crane, the iconoclastic novelist, poet, short-story writer, journalist, and war correspondent who propelled American literature into the modernist age, was born in Newark, New Jersey, on November 1, 1871. The origins of his genius will perhaps always remain elusive:he was of the opinion that 'writing was a business like any other' and believed that 'one could train one's mind to observe and a man should be able to say something worthwhile about any event.' Crane's tragically abbreviated career, which spanned less than ten years, dates from 1892, when the New York Tribune printed the novice reporter's so-caled Sullivan County sketches, a series of rustic stories set in the New York countryside. His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, was priately printed in 1893 and broke new ground with its realistic portrait of life in the slums of New York City. The Black Riders, a volume of poetry, came out in 1895.
Cranes's next book, The Red Badge of Courage, brought him international fame when it was published in October 1895. 'The Red Badge of Courage has long been considered the first great 'modern' novel of war by an American-the first novel of literary distinction to present war without heroics and this in a spirit of total irony and skepticism,' wrote Alfred Kazin. 'What makes [it] so remarkable, and a pioneer in the literature of war, is that it was written entirely from instinct by a young newspaperman in his early twenties who had never seen a war.' 'With The Red Badge of Courage, Crane burst upon the American public with the effect of a Civil War projectile lain dormant beneath a city square for thirty years.' observed Ralph Ellison.'That The Red Badgewas widely read during Crane's own time was a triumph of his art.'
Afterward Crane led a vagabond existence as a journalist and war correspondent while continuing to write fiction. Capitalizing on the success of The Red Badge of Courage, he turned out The Little Regiment (1896), a collection of Civil War stories. In addition he completed two more novels: George's Mother (1896), a second Bowery tale often viewed as a companion to Maggie, and The Third Violet (1897), a portrait of bohemian life that is generally considered his least accomplished work. Crane's earlier travels in Mexico and the American Southwest inspired two of his most famous short stories, 'The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky' (1897) and 'The Blue Hotel' (1898). His harrowing misadventures at sea in route to Cuba resulted in 'The Open Boat' (1897), a story many critics regard as his masterpiece. In 1899, the final year of his life, Crane published War is Kind, a second book of verse; Active Service, an adventure-romance based on his experiences as a reporter in the Greco-Turkish War; and The Monster and Other Stories, whose disturbing title story provides sharp study of community malice.
Stephen Crane suffered a series of tubercular hemorrhages while living in England during the spring of 1900 and died in a sanatorium in Badenweiler, Germany, on June 5, 1900. Several of Crane's last works were issed posthumously, including Whilomville Stories (1900), a volume of tales about small-town America; Wounds in the Rain (1900), a collection of short stories drawn from his exploits in the Spanish-American War; Great Battles of the World (1901), a work of nonfiction culled from a popular magazine series; Last Words (1902) a miscellany of articles, stories, and newspaper sketches; and The O'Ruddy (1903), a swashbuckling Irish romance left unfinished at the time of his death.
'Crane in his short life quickly showed himself the most original, most ruthlessly independant, most sardonic novelist of his talented generation,' judged Alfred Kazin. 'Nowhere in American writing was a godless world expressed with so much terseness and finality as in the work of Stephen Crane.' The poet John Berryman, one of Crane's most celebrated biographers concluded: 'Crane was perhaps as original as an artist can be, and be valuable....By a margin he is probably the greatest American story-writer, he stands as an artist not far below Hawthorne and James, he is one of our few poets, and one of the few manifest geniuses the country has produced.'
"The Red Badge Of Courage has long been considered the first great 'modern' novel of war by an American—the first novel of literary distinction to present war without heroics and this in a spirit of total irony and skepticism."—Alfred Kazin