STEPHEN CRANE by James B. Colvert


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With his short life and modest output, Crane is better suited than most writers to the skimpy-text format of the HBJ Album Biography series--and this competent, academic introduction by Prof. Colvert (English, Univ. of Georgia, Athens) is the least objectionable series entry so far. Following young Crane from his religious-parent background (Methodist) to reporter-days in Asbury Park, N.J., Colvert stresses ""an unresolved tension. . . between piety and sinfulness, authority and rebellion."" The literary/philosophical influence of evolution-wise Hamlin Garland is detailed; Crane's early journalism is shown to contain foreshadowings of his metaphorical style. Then come the Bowery/bohemian years in New York, the writing of first-novel Maggie, saved from its ""inherent banality"" by its innovative imagery, phrasing, and perspective. The Red Badge of Courage soon followed, its compelling metaphors reflecting Crane's ""spiritual uneasiness,"" a paradoxical view of heroism. But though the success of Red Badge brought international fame, Crane's life thereafter (reporter-travels, edgy settling-down in England, common-law marriage and literary colleague-ships) would be shadowed by money-troubles, poor health, and declining literary quality as he moved toward more conventional realism--though there still would be small masterpieces like ""The Open Boat"" and ""The Upturned Face."" Colvert's serviceable critiques sometimes become soporifically pedantic. (""Theme, image, and action are woven in fluid compositional patterns of theses and antitheses."") Neither Crane nor his world ever comes to life here. And, though a workmanlike classroom introduction, this essay--like all the offerings thus far in the disappointing Album Biography project--lacks the style, personality, and authority so often found in the comparable ""And His World"" series from Britain.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich