Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire

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With the exception of Poe, no American writer has proven as challenging to biographers as the author of The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane's short, compact life—"a life of fire," he called it—continues to be surrounded by myths and half-truths, distortions and outright fabrications.

Stephen Crane

Mindful of the pitfalls that have marred previous biographies, Paul Sorrentino has sifted through garbled chronologies and contradictory eyewitness accounts, scoured the archives, and followed in Crane's footsteps. The result is the most complete and accurate account of the poet and novelist written to date. Whether Crane was dressing as a hobo to document the life of the homeless in the Bowery, defending a prostitute against corrupt New York City law enforcement, or covering the historic charge up the San Juan hills as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War, his adventures were front-page news.

From Sorrentino's layered narrative of the various phases of Crane's life a portrait slowly emerges.

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By turns garrulous and taciturn, confident and insecure, romantic and cynical, Crane was a man of irresolvable contradictions. In , Crane set sail for Cuba to report on the insurrection there. However, after the ship on which he was traveling, the SS Commodore , sank, Crane spent more than a day adrift with three other men.

His account of the ordeal resulted in one of the world's great short stories, "The Open Boat. Unable to get to Cuba, in April Crane went to Greece to report on the Greco-Turkish War, taking with him Cora Taylor, a former brothel proprietor married to an aristocratic captain who would refuse to give her a divorce. Crane and Taylor would come to be recognized as common-law spouses.

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But mostly negative reviews of every novel since Courage caused his literary reputation to dwindle. Despite Courage being in its 14th printing, Crane was running out of money partially due to an ostentatious lifestyle.

On top of his mounting financial troubles, Crane's health had been deteriorating for a few years; he had contracted everything from malaria to yellow fever during his Bowery years and time as a war correspondent. One month later, on June 5, , Stephen Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of 28, the same age at which his sister Agnes had passed.


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The biography Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire was published in by scholar Paul Sorrentino, an expert on Crane who's focused on presenting a nuanced look at the writer's life. We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

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