STEPHEN CRANE (1871 – 1900) is regarded now as one of the most original writers of his generation; he was a poet, novelist and short story writer. He taught himself to read before he was four, although he did not excel as a student; he declared college to be a “waste of time'” and left to become a writer. He was attracted to slum life, whose characters he found to be “open and plain, with nothing hidden.” His first novel, Maggie was self-published, and was about a prostitute. (His reputation was ruined later by his involvement and mishap in the arrest of an alleged prostitute.) The Red Badge of Courage, published in 1895, was the result of an obsession with war. His intention was to write a “psychological portrayal of fear,” and it met much success. He settled in England where he befriended Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells and others. Poverty and ill health (he suffered several severe pulmonary hemorrhages) led to a premature death.
Published in 1895, The Red Badge of Courage is noted for its realism and naturalism. He used press reports and even interviewed military veterans for inspiration, and is in a sense displaced reportage. It was received by near-universal acclaim, what H. G. Wells called an “orgy of praise.” It is considered now to be a landmark of the American literary canon.