Thomas Powers

  • BuyStephen Crane: A Life of Fire by Paul Sorrentino
    Harvard, 476 pp, £25.00, June 2014, ISBN 978 0 674 04953 6

The Red Badge of Courage is generally the only thing about Stephen Crane that readers remember now. The novel, first published in 1895 when Crane was only 23, is short and centres on the battlefield experience of a man younger still, Henry Fleming, who worries that in the test of war he will prove a coward, and then does. Some rough germ of an idea for the novel had been with Crane for years. As a child he fantasised about war and in his teens he contemplated West Point and a military career. In college while watching a football game he felt he was watching war: ‘The psychology is the same,’ he told a writer friend. ‘The opposite team is an enemy tribe!’ In the early 1890s he lived in New York off and on with a painter called Linson who had worked his way up the ladder of success to about the point where he could afford one square meal a day. Crane sold sketches to the newspapers from time to time but was essentially penniless. It was while lounging on the daybed in Linson’s studio that he began to think seriously about Red Badge.

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