Crane & Conrad

December 3: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage first appeared in print on this day in 1894, a shortened version of the story beginning serialization in a handful of American newspapers. The popularity of the serialization enabled Crane to obtain a publisher, and the first book edition appeared ten months later, soon becoming an international hit.

 

Joseph Conrad, born on this day in 1857, was Crane's closest literary friend in England. Their friendship began in the fall of 1897, Conrad then reading and admiring Crane's new book, and Crane reading and praising Conrad's just-published Nigger of the Narcissus. In Last Essays (1926), Conrad recalls reading Red Badge as "one of the most enduring memories of my literary life," its unique writing style detonating "with the impact and force of a twelve-inch shell charged with a very high explosive." But the battle metaphor turns tragic in the last paragraph, where Crane is remembered as his novel's mortally wounded Tall Soldier, fated "to fall early in the fray."

 

In another recollection published long after Crane's death in 1900, aged twenty-eight, Conrad provides two snapshots of his young friend. At their first meeting, a few days after his arrival in London, Conrad describes "Stevie" as "a young man of medium stature and slender build, with very steady, penetrating blue eyes, the eyes of a being who not only sees visions but can brood over them to some purpose." Their last meeting was on Crane's last day in England: 

It was in Dover, in a big hotel, in a bedroom with a large window looking on to the sea. He had been very ill, and Mrs. Crane was taking him to some place in Germany, but one glance at that wasted face was enough to tell me that it was the most forlorn of all hopes. The last words he breathed out to me were, "I am tired. Give my love to your wife and child." When I stopped at the door for another look I saw that he had turned his head on the pillow and was staring wistfully out of the window at the sails of a cutter yacht that glided slowly across the frame, like a dim shadow against the grey sky….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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