Stephen Crane Biography

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Stephen Crane was born November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey. He was the fourteenth and last child of the Reverend John Townley Crane, a Methodist minister and published writer in ethics (The Arts of Intoxication, 1870), and Mary Helen Peck, the daughter of a prominent Methodist minister. Both of his parents were active in the temperance movement, and his father moved the family repeatedly as he was transferred to different ministries. Crane's father died when he was nine, and his mother earned extra money by writing for Methodist journals, the New York Tribune, and the Philadelphia Press, all with young Stephen's help.

In 1885, Stephen entered the Pennington (N.J.) Seminary, a Methodist boarding school where his father had served as principal, then later transferred to Claverack (N.Y.) College-Hudson River Institute, a military boarding school. He left mid-year in 1890 for "academic delinquencies," but attained the rank of cadet captain. In January 1891, he entered Syracuse University, which was co-founded by his mother's uncle, and became extensively involved in writing and English. Instead of returning to school the next September, he decided to concentrate on his writing, and stayed with artist friends in New York. He studied the Bowery and flophouses in New York City for inspiration in his writing. Crane's mother died in December of 1891, and a few weeks later he wrote a draft of his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, in two days.

Crane took work in New York as a freelance writer during 1892, and with no hope of finding a publisher for Maggie, he borrowed his inheritance from his mother in 1893, in order to publish it himself, which he did under the pseudonym Johnston Smith. The book was not widely reviewed, but was noticed by the authors Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells; Howells subsequently invited Crane to tea. Crane began reading Civil War memoirs, and began to write The Red Badge of Courage in the spring of 1893.

By 1894 Crane was writing extensively, despite anxiety over hearing no response from a publisher on the Red Badge. Late that October, The Red Badge was accepted in a condensed version for serial publication in a newspaper. After personal congratulations from the Philadelphia Press, the manuscript was accepted for publication as a novel in December.

Crane spent 1895 traveling through the American West and Mexico, writing the whole time. His book of poems, The Black Riders, was published on May 11. The Red Badge of Courage was published on October 5, and quickly became a bestseller, establishing Crane's reputation as an author. In 1896, his book George's Mother was published, and a revised version of Maggie was published. Although he met Theodore Roosevelt in New York and shared some of his writing, he fell out of favor with Roosevelt and the New York police when he testified in defense of a woman friend who had been arrested on charges of solicitation. Later in 1896, Crane left the U.S. for Cuba to cover the Cuban revolution.

In 1897, the boat from which Crane was covering the Cuban war sank, becoming the inspiration for his story "The Open Boat." In March, Crane took passage to Greece to cover the Greco-Turkish war. His girlfriend, Cora Howorth Steward, was hired by the New York Journal as their first female war correspondent. The two were married during this time, and after the war moved to Oxted, Surrey, in England. Through his British publisher, Crane met the writer Joseph Conrad, who became his close friend. Crane's book The Third Violet, inspired by his travels in Mexico, was published on May 15, and after moving to England, Crane wrote several short stories, including The Monster.

Tangled literary commitments and poverty forced Crane back to New York in 1898; he then signed on to cover the American campaign in Cuba. After being sent away from the war zone because of fever and exhaustion, he was fired, but signed on with another paper to cover the Puerto Rican campaign. During this time, he wrote but had no correspondence at all with his wife or family, who opened official inquiries as to his whereabouts. He returned to New York that November, then sailed for England at the end of December. In England during 1899, Crane became friends with David Garnett, Henry James, and H.G. Wells. A second book of poems, War is Kind, was published on May 20. Active Service, a novel about the Greek war, was published October 14. The Monster and Other Stories was published on December 9. On December 29, Crane suffered a tubercular hemorrhage of the lungs.

Sick and beset by deadlines, Crane concealed his serious tuberculosis until April 1, 1900, when he suffered massive lung hemorrhages. In May, he traveled as a patient to a sanitarium in Badenweiler, Germany, where he died on June 5. He was twenty-nine years old. He was buried by his wife in Hillside, New Jersey. Whilomville Stories (1900), Wounds in the Rain (1900), Great Battles of the World (1901), and The O'Ruddy (1903), were all published posthumously.

Stephen Crane was a revolutionary in that he was one of the first American proponents of a literary genre called Naturalism, which took hold as an American literary trend only after Crane's death. Naturalism takes the stance that literary composition should portray an objective, empirically-based representation of human beings and the human condition. It differs from Realism, however, in that it is decidedly pessimistic in its portrayal, championing Darwinian beliefs in biological determinism. Naturalists reject free will and see humanity as controlled strictly by instinct, emotion, and societal conditions. In Europe, where the movement started, Naturalism was championed by the writers Edmond Louis Antoine de Goncourt, Jules Alfred Huot de Gancourt, and Émile Zola. In America, the trend started by Crane was picked up by Frank Norris, Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, and James T. Farrell. Crane himself is known for his pessimistic and brutal psychological portraits, which are offset by a beautiful sense of language and an undercurrent of human sympathy.


"Crane, Stephen." Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia '99. Microsoft Corporation, 1999.

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. Vintage Books/The Library of America, 1990.

Levenson, J.C. Chronology. Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., New York, 1984.

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