Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire by Paul Sorrentino - review by Jay Parini

Jay Parini

Earning His Badges

Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire


Harvard University Press 494pp £25 order from our bookshop

Although only 28 at his death in 1900, Stephen Crane left behind an impressive shelf of books: novels, stories, poems and war reportage. His masterpiece, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), defines American literature of the era, foreshadowing the modernist movement with its cool, ironic prose and knowing voice. Short stories such as ‘The Open Boat’ and ‘The Blue Hotel’ remain among the finest examples of this unforgiving genre, equal in vitality and freshness to anything by Poe or Hemingway. Even his poems, which meant a great deal to him, appear remarkably innovative in retrospect, and they were admired by such writers as Robert Frost and Ezra Pound. 

But the life of Crane has always seemed elusive, a tissue of fabricated stories and conjecture. The problems began with his first biographer, Thomas Beer, who published a short life in 1923. Although well written, many of the anecdotes, interviews and letters in the book are now regarded as pure

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