“As the boat bounced off the crest of each wave, gusts of wind ruffled the hair of the bareheaded men, and as soon as the boat plunged aft with a ‘plop’, the sea foam would rise again. punish them like whipping. ” Are the words of Stephen Crane in The open pot, a story where he tells that he almost drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Florida in 1897. In the end, although indirectly, he ended up dying from that incident: the four days adrift caused tuberculosis, a disease that ended him in 1900 when he was only 28 years old. But, despite his short life, he became one of the most important figures in world literature.
Born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey, Crane was the ninth of 14 children born to his devoted Methodist parents, Jonathan Townley Crane and Mary Helen Peck. Luck was not something that accompanied his family: his sister, Agnes Elizabeth, also died at the age of 28 but of meningitis, while his brother Luther suffered the same fate when he fell under a moving train while working as a signalman. The New Jersey writer’s career was short, but intense: in just eight and a half years he produced a masterpiece The red badge, two short novels, three dozen short stories (including the aforementioned The open boat), collections of poems and more than 200 newspaper articles.
For all this, the writer, translator and filmmaker Paul Auster (1947), recognized among other things for The New York Trilogy (1987) or Leviathan (1992), and winner of the 2016 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, has decided to publish a new book focused on the American author that is halfway between a biography and a literary analysis. The immortal flame by Stephen Crane, edited by Seix Barral and translated into Spanish by Benito Gómez Ibáñez.
Crane’s first novel was Maggie, a street girl (1983), focused on a young woman from the Bowery, a neighborhood in southern Manhattan (New York), who after a series of unfortunate events ends up living in poverty and loneliness. The author was only 22 years old when he published his pioneering work, lauded for its literary realism and tackling issues like the destructive power of alcohol. It was considered the first sample of American literary naturalism, although it went so against the religiosity of the time that there was no label that wanted to publish it and it ended up being self-published.
In addition, Crane’s career path was fueled by the golden age of the mass press. In New York alone, 18 English-speaking newspapers coexisted, which led to the rise of the yellow press. In fact, the writer was recruited by two of the most popular headlines of the time The Journal, by William Randolph Hearst, and the World, by Joseph Pulitzer.
What was happening with the press was a true reflection of what was happening in the United States at that time, an important context also necessary to understand the development of Crane himself. At the end of the 19th century the region experienced strong growth that transformed it from an isolated country to a great world power. Until then unknown things emerged, such as the telephone, the funicular or even jeans.
But the Americans continued to carry the legacy of two great crimes that they still have not been able to repair: the slavery of Africans and the annihilation of Native Americans. While the Indians were massacred or imprisoned in reservations managed by the United States government, the capitalists accumulated fortunes of millions of dollars thanks to businesses such as the railroad, steel or banking, which marked a precedent in economic inequality that continues to this day. .
The opposite was the case with Crane’s economy, who despite his high output was trying to make a living as a freelance writer in New York. “The history of American literature and the great names we admire so much now, such as Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen Crane himself were dealing with many financial problems. In fact, Herman Melville wrote in a letter: ‘Dollars are my curse.’ That’s why there were fewer authors than now, because it was practically impossible to make a living out of it, “explains Paul Auster after being asked by elDiario.es in an online press conference organized by his publisher.
Hence The Red Badge of Courage, a story about the American Civil War, was born out of the author’s despair. He was broke, he had lost his contact with the Tribune newspaper, he found it difficult to publish in newspapers and he needed a success that would become a source of income. He had no experience in battles and was born after the war he was recounting, but he ended up creating a classic of war literature. Immediately after, he became a celebrity, praised both by critics and by writers such as HG Wells and Hemingway.
The exile of New York and the battle against the Police
“The brutality and unnecessary harshness with which the crowd was treated would have been inexcusable at any time, but on the night in question it was simply disgraceful.” It was the first in a series of articles Crane wrote against the NYPD, on that occasion referring to, according to him, injustices that the authorities had committed in 1896 during the first major speech of William Jenings Bryan, Democratic candidate for the presidency.
The following week he again affected police malpractice. “It is to be hoped that they will make an example with the policeman who arrested an innocent woman on Sixth Avenue the other night who had not broken the law,” he denounced. The woman in question was a prostitute named Ruby Young (aka Dora Clark), whom she did not know in person at the time but was about to change her life forever.
The events took place on September 16, 1896, when Crane was in a popular resort Broadway interviewing two women for a story. When he was returning home, the journalist saw how a plainclothes policeman grabbed two women who began to scream. Charles Becker, the officer, arrested them for “approaching two men for the purpose of prostitution,” but the journalist interceded and posed as the husband of one of them, Dora Clark. That was the writer’s sentence: after this, a series of police trials and a campaign of public smear began that ended up causing his exile from New York. “Stephen Crane showed as much courage as his hero of The Badge of Courage in a guard court in New York: he confessed that he had been the companion of a woman from the Tenderloin, “the Journal published sarcastically. His reputation was ruined.
Still, given his tireless spirit, Crane continued to earn a living. He worked as a correspondent during the Spanish-American war in Cuba, where he was in the enemy line of fire, wrote of working conditions in a coal mine in Pennsylvania or a brutal drought in Nebraska. A large sample for a short career that, despite this, was enough to change the way of telling the world through the written word.