Stephen Crane was one of America's foremost realistic writers, 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 his keen observations, as well as personal experiences, to achieve a narrative vividness and sense of immediacy matched by few American writers before him. While The Red Badge of Courage is acknowledged as his masterpiece, Crane's novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is also acclaimed as an important work in the development of literary Naturalism, and his often-anthologized short stories "The Open Boat," "The Blue Hotel," and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" are among the most skillfully crafted stories in American literature.

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 Hudson River Institute and Claverack College, a military school where he nurtured his interest in Civil War studies and military training. Throughout his college years, Crane wrote, working as a freelance writer for his brother's news service, and it is thought that he wrote the preliminary sketch of Maggie while still at Syracuse University. 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 New York he lived a bohemian existence among the local artists and became well acquainted with life in the Bowery; from his first-hand knowledge of poverty during this period he was able to realistically depict tenement life in his writings. In 1893 Crane privately published his first novella, Maggie, under a pseudonym after several publishers rejected the work on the grounds that his description of slum realities would shock readers. According to Crane, Maggie "tries to show that environment is a tremendous thing in the world and frequently shapes lives regardless." Critics suggest that the novel was a major development in American literary Naturalism and that it introduced Crane's vision of life as warfare: influenced by the Darwinism of the times, Crane viewed individuals as victims of purposeless forces and believed that they encountered only hostility in their relationships with other individuals, with society, with nature, and with God. Also prominent in his first novel is an ironic technique that exposes the hypocrisy of moral tenets when they are set against the sordid reality of slum life. Although Maggie received the support of such literary figures as Hamlin Garland and Howells, it was not a success. It was not until 1896, after Crane tempered the brutalities in a second edition, that the work received wide recognition.

Crane's second novel, The Red Badge of Courage, won him international fame. His vision of life as warfare is uniquely rendered in this short, essentially plotless novel. Often compared to Impressionist painting, The Red Badge of Courage is a series of vivid episodes in which a young soldier, Henry Fleming, confronts a gamut of emotions—fear, courage, pride, and humility—in his attempt to understand his battlefield experiences; in this respect, Fleming represents the "Everyman" of war. Crane's work employs a narrative point of view that distinctively offers both an objective panorama of the war as well as the more subjective impressions of the young soldier. Since he had never been to war when he wrote The Red Badge of Courage, Crane claimed that his source for the accurate descriptions of combat was the football field; when he finally experienced battle as a war correspondent, he said of the novel, "It was all right." Critics have long debated whether The Red Badge of Courage should be considered a product of any specific literary movement or method. The work has been claimed by several schools and referred to as Realistic, Naturalistic, Symbolistic, and Impressionistic. Proponents of Realism view The Red Badge of Courage as the first unromanticized account of the Civil War and find Fleming's maturation from an inexperienced youth to an enlightened battle-worn soldier to be truthfully depicted. Defenders of a Naturalistic reading contend that the youth's actions and experiences are shaped by social, biological, and psychological forces and that his "development" as a character is incidental to Crane's expert depiction of how these forces determine human existence. Stylistically, Crane's novel contains elements of both Impressionism and Symbolism. For example, some critics note that The Red Badge of Courage is laden with symbols and images, while others explain that Crane's episodic narrative structure and his consistent use of color imagery are indicative of an Impressionistic method. A succinct estimate of this debate is offered by Edwin H. Cady: "The very secret of the novel's power inheres in the inviolably organic uniqueness with which Crane adapted all four methods to his need. The Red Badge's method is all and none. There is no previous fiction like it."

Shortly after the publication of The Red Badge of Courage, Crane published the poetry collection The Black Riders, and Other Lines (1895). Although not widely known, this volume of free verse foreshadowed the work of the Imagist poets with its concise, vivid images. During this time Crane continued to work as a journalist, traveling throughout the American West and Mexico for a news syndicate, and later using his experiences as the basis for fictional works. Returning to New York, Crane wrote The Third Violet, a story of bohemian life among the poor artists of New York. This novel is considered one of his least accomplished works and some early critics believed that it was an indication of Crane's failing talent.

In 1897 Crane met Cora Taylor, the proprietor of the dubiously named Hotel de Dream, a combination hotel, nightclub, 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. Shortly after this move, Crane left to report on the Spanish-American War for the New York World, an assignment he accepted, in part, to escape financial debts he and Cora had accrued. Although Crane was ill when he returned to England, he continued writing fiction in order to satisfy his artistic needs and to earn money. With Active Service (1899) he produced another flawed work. This war novel, based on his experiences as a war correspondent in the Greco-Turkish War, is often described as uneven and sprawling. By 1900, Crane's health had rapidly deteriorated due to general disregard for his physical well-being. After several respiratory attacks, Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight.

Although Crane achieved the pinnacle of his success with The Red Badge of Courage, many critics believe that he demonstrated his greatest strength as a short story writer. His major achievements in this genre are "The Open Boat," "The Blue Hotel," and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." "The Open Boat" is based on Crane's experience as a correspondent shipwrecked while on a filibustering expedition to the Cuban revolutionaries in 1897. The Naturalistic story pits a handful of men against the power of the indifferent but destructive sea. Crane's characteristic use of vivid imagery is demonstrated throughout this story to underscore both the beauty and terror of natural forces. According to critics, Crane is at his best in "The Open Boat," maintaining an even tone and fluent style while conveying a metaphysical identification between God and nature. Crane's facility with imagery is again displayed with telling effect in the tragic story "The Blue Hotel." In this deceptively simple Western tale, "the Swede," one of Crane's most interesting characters, becomes the inevitable victim of his own preconceptions about the "Wild West"—fearing a lawless, uncivilized world, his violent reactions to Western life result in his own death. Thomas Gullason described Crane's depiction of "the Swede" as "almost Dostoevskyean in its psychological penetration." In another Western story, the comic "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Crane parodies the "shoot 'em-up" Western myth as the characters Jack Potter and Scratchy Wilson fail to fulfill romantic illusions through a gunfight. In these short stories, as in most of his work, Crane is a consummate ironist, employing a technique that most critics find consistently suggests the disparity between an individual's perception of reality and reality as it actually exists.

Commentators generally agree that for the most part Crane disregarded plot and character delineation in his work and that he was unable to sustain longer works of fiction. However, with the proliferation of Crane scholarship during the last twenty years, Crane's literary reputation has grown. Critics contend that despite his minor flaws, Crane's artistry lies in his ability to convey a personal vision based on his own sense of integrity. In so doing, he pioneered a modern form of fiction which superseded the genteel Realism of late nineteenth-century American literature.

In 1988 a collection of Crane's letters was published in The Correspondence of Stephen Crane. Whether the material in this book has provided scholars with new insights into Crane's thinking or mere confirmation of what was already known, scholars have been disappointed that the correspondence sheds no light on the question of which version of The Red Badge of Courage is the most authentic. For example, scholars speculate whether the famous last line of the novel ("Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.") was Crane's intended ending or was written at the suggestion of his editor. Silence on this point in The Correspondence of Stephen Crane is perhaps consistent with what Andrew Delbanco, writing in New Republic, suggested would be "Crane's likely attitude toward such questions: One sees what one prefers."



  • Men, Women and Boats, edited and introduced by Vincent Starrett, Boni & Liveright, 1921.
  • 1925-26 The Works of Stephen Crane, twelve volumes, edited by Wilson Follett, Knopf.
  • The Collected Poems of Stephen Crane (poetry), edited by Follett, Knopf, 1930.
  • The Complete Short Stories and Sketches, edited and introduced by Thomas A. Gullason, Doubleday, 1963.
  • Poems, edited by Gerald D. McDonald, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian, Crowell, 1964.
  • The Complete Novels, edited and introduced by Gullason, Doubleday, 1967.
  • The Portable Stephen Crane, edited and introduced by Katz, Viking, 1969.
  • The Works of Stephen Crane, edited by Fredson Bowers, University Press of Virginia, Volume I: Bowery Tales: Maggie [and] George's Mother, 1969, Volume II: The Red Badge of Courage, 1975, Volume IV: The O'Ruddy, 1971, Volume V: Tales of Adventure, 1970, Volume VI: Tales of War, 1970, Volume VII: Tales of Whilomville, 1969, Volume VIII: Tales, Sketches, and Reports, 1973 , Volume IX: Reports of War, 1971, Volume X: Poems and Literary Remains, 1975.
  • The Complete Poems of Stephen Crane, edited and introduced by Katz, Cornell University Press, 1972.
  • The Stephen Crane Reader, edited by Stallman, Scott, Foresman, 1972.
  • Prose and Poetry (Library of America), edited by J. C. Levenson, 1984.
  • The Blue Hotel and Selected Works, Perfection Form Co. (Des Moines), 1991.
  • The Red Badge of Courage, and Other Stories, Penguin (New York City), 1991.


  • The Little Regiment, and Other Episodes of the American Civil War (includes "The Veteran"), Appleton, 1896, published in England as Pictures of War, Heinemann, 1898.
  • The Open Boat, and Other Tales of Adventure (includes "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," "A Man and Some Others," "One Dash—Horses," "Flanagan," "The Wise Men," "Death and the Child," and "The Five White Mice"), Doubleday & McClure, 1898.
  • The Monster, and Other Stories (includes "The Blue Hotel" and "His New Mittens"), Harper, 1899.
  • Whilomville Stories, illustrated by Peter Newell, Harper, 1900.
  • Wounds in the Rain: A Collection of Stories Relating to the Spanish-American War of 1898, Stokes, 1900.
  • Last Words (includes "The Reluctant Voyagers," "Spitzbergen Tales," "Wyoming Valley Tales," "London Impressions," "New York Sketches," "The Assassins in Modern Battles," "Irish Notes," and "Sullivan County Sketches"), Digby, Long, 1902.
  • The Sullivan County Sketches of Stephen Crane (sketches; originally serialized in New York Tribune and The Cosmopolitan, 1892), edited by Melvin Schoberlin, Syracuse University Press, 1949, revised edition, edited with an introduction by Stallman, published as Sullivan County Tales and Sketches, Iowa State University Press, 1968.


  • (Under pseudonym Johnston Smith) Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (novella), privately printed, 1893, revised edition published under the name Stephen Crane, Appleton, 1896.
  • The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War (novella), Appleton, 1895.
  • George's Mother, Edward Arnold, 1896.
  • The Third Violet, Appleton, 1897.
  • Active Service, Stokes, 1899.
  • (With Robert Barr) The O'Ruddy, Stokes, 1903.


  • The Black Riders, and Other Lines, Copeland & Day, 1895.
  • War Is Kind, illustrated by Will Bradley, Stokes, 1899.


  • Great Battles of the World, illustrated by John Sloan, Lippincott, 1901.
  • A Battle in Greece (nonfiction), illustrated by Valenti Angelo, Peter Pauper Press, 1936.
  • Stephen Crane: An Omnibus, edited and introduced with notes by R. W. Stallman, Knopf, 1952.
  • Love Letters to Nellie Crouse, edited and introduced by Edwin H. Cady and Lester G. Wells, Syracuse University Press, 1954.
  • Stephen Crane: Letters, edited by Stallman and Lillian Gilkes, New York University Press, 1960.
  • An Illusion in Red and White, edited by Don Honig, Avon, 1962.
  • Stephen Crane: Uncollected Writings, edited by Olov W. Fryckstedt, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, 1963.
  • The War Dispatches of Stephen Crane, edited by Stallman and E. R. Hagemann, New York University Press, 1966.
  • The New York City Sketches of Stephen Crane, and Related Pieces, edited by Stallman and Hagemann, New York University Press, 1966.
  • A Critical Edition, edited by Joseph Katz, Cooper Square Publishers, 1966.
  • The Notebook of Stephen Crane, edited by Donald and Ellen Greiner, John Cook Wyllie Memorial Publication, 1969.
  • The Blue Hotel (contains criticism), edited by Katz, C. E. Merrill, 1969.
  • Stephen Crane in the West and Mexico, edited by Katz, Kent State University Press, 1970.
  • The Correspondence of Stephen Crane, edited by Paul Sorrentino and Stanley Wertheim, Columbia University Press, 1988.
  • Stephen Crane: Prose and Poetry, Library of America, 1988.

Also the author of A Souvenir and a Medley: Seven Poems and a Sketch (poetry), 1896, Et Cetera: A Collector's Scrap-Book, 1924, The Blood of a Martyr (play), 1940, and The Western Writings, edited by Frank Bergon, 1979.

Further Readings


  • Authors & Artists for Young Adults, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit), 1997.
  • Beer, Thomas, Stephen Crane: A Study in American Letters, Knopf, 1923.
  • Bergon, Frank, Stephen Crane's Artistry, Columbia University Press, 1975.
  • Berryman, John, Stephen Crane, Sloane, 1950.
  • Bloom, Harold, editor, Modern Critical Views: Stephen Crane, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
  • Brown, Bill, The Material Unconscious: American Amusement: Stephen Crane and the Economies of Play, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
  • Cady, Edwin H., Stephen Crane, Twayne, 1980.
  • Cazemajou, Jean, Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, Northern Illinois University Press, 1972.
  • Colvert, James B., Stephen Crane, Harcourt, 1984.
  • Delbanco, Nicholas, Group Portrait: Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Maddox Ford, Henry James, and H. G. Wells, Morrow, 1982.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 12: American Realists and Naturalists, 1982, Volume 54: American Poets, 1880-1945, Third Series, 1987, Volume 78: American Short Story Writers, 1880-1910, 1989.
  • Gibson, Donald B., The Fiction of Stephen Crane, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.
  • Gullason, Thomas A., editor, Stephen Crane's Career: Perspectives and Evaluations, New York University Press, 1972.
  • Hoffman, Daniel G., The Poetry of Stephen Crane, Columbia University Press, 1957.
  • Holton, Milne, Cylinder of Vision: The Fiction and Journalistic Writing of Stephen Crane, Louisiana State University Press, 1972.
  • Katz, Joseph, editor, Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, Northern Illinois University Press, 1972.
  • Knapp, Bettina L., Stephen Crane, Ungar, 1987.
  • LaFrance, Marston, A Reading of Stephen Crane, Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Nagel, James, Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.
  • Mitchell, Lee Clark, editor, New Essays on "The Red Badge of Courage," Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Reference Guide to American Literature, third edition, St. James Press, 1994.
  • Reference Guide to Short Fiction, St. James Press, 1994.
  • Robertson, Michael, Stephen Crane: Journalism and the Making of Modern American Literature, Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • Schaefer, Michael W., A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Stephen Crane, G. K. Hall (New York City), 1996.
  • Short Story Criticism, Gale, Volume 7, 1991.
  • Slotkin, Alan Robert, The Language of Stephen Crane's Bowery Tales: Developing Mastery of Character Diction, Garland Pub. (New York City), 1993.
  • Solomon, Eric, Stephen Crane: From Parody to Realism, Harvard University Press, 1966.
  • Solomon, Eric, Stephen Crane in England: A Portrait of the Artist, Ohio State University Press, 1964, 136 p.
  • Stallman, R. W., Stephen Crane: A Biography, Brazillier, 1968.
  • Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 11, 1983, Volume 17, 1985, Volume 32, 1989.
  • Weatherford, R. M., editor, Stephen Crane, The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
  • Wertheim, Stanley, A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.


  • Academy, February, 1986, pp. 134-135.
  • Accent, summer 1959, pp. 159-165.
  • American Literary Realism: 1870-1910, autumn, 1982, pp. 221-231.
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  • American Mercury, January, 1924, pp. 11-14.
  • American Quarterly, winter, 1962, pp. 587-596.
  • Arizona Quarterly, summer, 1974, pp. 111-118; summer, 1982, pp. 147-161.
  • Bucknell Review, December, 1963, pp. 24-34.
  • Canadian Review of American Studies, spring, 1981, pp. 1-19.
  • CLA Journal, June, 1981, pp. 451-464.
  • Comparative Literature Studies, fall, 1984, pp. 270-281.
  • Dial, February, 1896, pp. 76-81; April, 1896, pp. 227-228; May 1, 1896, pp. 263-264; May 16, 1896, pp. 297-298.
  • English Journal, January, 1968, pp. 24-25, 99.
  • Journal of Modern Literature, June, 1983, pp. 346-352.
  • Kenyon Review, spring, 1953, pp. 310, 312-314; spring, 1956, pp. 276-299.
  • Literature and History, spring, 1981, pp. 91-123.
  • Modern Fiction Studies, summer, 1957, pp. 147-158; autumn, 1959, pp. 195-291; winter, 1962-63, pp. 410-415; winter, 1965-66, pp. 371-380; summer, 1966, pp. 200-212; winter 1981-82, pp. 621-628.
  • Modern Language Notes, February, 1959, pp. 108-111; February, 1960, pp. 111-113.
  • National Review, September 30, 1988, p. 55.
  • New Republic, September 11, 1915, pp. 148-150; July 11, 1988, p. 33.
  • New York Times, October 19, 1895, p. 3.
  • New York Times Book Review, March 16, 1989, p. 31.
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  • Texas Studies in Literature and Language, winter, 1963, pp. 568-582.
  • Times Literary Supplement, January 20, 1989, p. 55.
  • Village Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1992, p. 23.
  • Yale Review, winter, 1977, pp. 209-222.