THE DOUBLE LIFE OF STEPHEN CRANE: A Biography by Christopher Benfey


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Crane's ""double life,"" says Benfey (Emily Dickinson, 1986), was comprised of the one he projected in his fiction and the actual life that was influenced by it. According to Benfey, Crane ""lived his life backwards."" Taciturn, mercurial, rootless, Crane--who died from tuberculosis at age 28--left little but his amazing work as a record of his life: novels, poetry, short stories, and journalism, which is how he earned a living. The two major examples of his ""backwards"" life are Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, written before Crane had had any experience of women and before he met Cora Taylor, the Florida madam who was to become his common-law wife, and The Red Badge of Courage, written before Crane had had any experience of war. Benfey offers other interesting theses: That Crane--since he learned to read when his father died and to write when his mother died--associated language and mourning. That the visual quality of Crane's writing was influenced by the bohemian art students and illustrators he lived among in New York. That the appearance of his poetry is a reflection of the Arts and Crafts movement. And that the meaning of the ""baby sketches"" (""An Ominous Baby,"" ""A Great Mistake,"" and ""A Dark Brown Dog"")--bizarre takes on infant adventure--may be explained by D.W. Winnicott's theories of ""transitional objects"" and reflect the emotional deprivation of Crane's youth as the last of 14 children in an austere and pious household. Unpretentious and lucid but--like Crane's fiction and, as Benfey claims, his life--episodic, a series of aperÇus focusing on different aspects of the life and work. A more coherent story may not be possible.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf