One of the greatest works of American literature, The Red Badge of Courage gazes fearlessly into the bright hell of war through the eyes of one young soldier, the reluctant Henry Fleming. Written by Stephen Crane at the age of twenty-one, the novel imagines the Civil War's terror and loss with an unblinking vision so modern and revolutionary that, upon publication, critics hailed it as a work of literary genius. Ernest Hemingway declared, "There was no real literature of our Civil War . . . until Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage."
This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition includes the short story "The Veteran," Crane's tale of an aged Civil War soldier looking back at his past.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
September 12, 2000
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
From the Introduction by Shelby Foote
When I first encountered The Red Badge, back in my early teens, it fairly bowled me over, this story of how a New York farmboy who, in his terrifying baptism of fire-a baptism of which it could truly be said, in churchly terms, that it was "by total immersion"-first turns tail and runs, a coward, but then rejoins his regiment and comports himself, throughout the second day of battle, as a hero. More than half a century later, and with my own war behind me, the novel bowls me over still, but in a different way, especially in my understanding of Crane's ultimate assessment of his young protagonist: "He was a man."
From the time of that furious ten-night burst of first-draft writing, in the early spring of 1893, to the presumably final product in New Orleans, in March of 1895, he had tinkered with and labored over the text, off and on, for two full years. Like Schliemann at Troy, explicators have unearthed at least seven layers of composition and revision underlying the version most of us read today, although some of those scholars-ignoring the fact that Crane never expressed any reservations about what he had passed for the printer-restore the excised portions, long and short, in brackets or in supplements, in an attempt to reinforce their notion of what it was that Crane had been trying to say before he yielded to pressure from Ripley Hitchcock to clip the soaring novel's wings; which, incidentally, is rather like copping the old plea, "The devil made me do it." Crane didn't believe in the devil, nor in "the lake of fire and the rest of the sideshows," and would probably be no more than mildly interested in the outcome. He had known what he was after from the start, yet it was only by making the effort, including the additions and excisions, that he discovered how to get where he was going. The point is that he got there, and he got there in the fewest possible words.
From the outset, having chosen his model--Chancellorsville, as even the most elementary student of the conflict can plainly see from point to point in Crane's account--he was determined to make it universal, not only to broaden its scope but also to avoid the harping of veterans and those who would presently be called buffs. "I evaded them," he afterwards explained, "because it was essential that I should make my battle a type and name no names." Only two place-names are mentioned throughout, Washington and Richmond, and one river, the Rappahannock. Except for the subtitle, added later, not even the war itself is identified. Neither secession nor emancipation is referred to, any more than are Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; Joe Hooker is never spotted through the drifting smoke, astride his big white horse, and no rumor makes the rounds to tell of Stonewall Jackson's fatal wounding in the flame-stitched twilight of the first day's fighting. In the course of Crane's revisions, even the main characters' names Jim Conklin, Wilson, and Henry Fleming-were deleted, outside of dialogue passages, and changed respectively to "the tall soldier," "the loud soldier," and "the youth," whose surname remains undisclosed until midway through the book, when he imagines his comrades jeering at his absence, "Where's Henry Fleming? He run, didn't 'e? Oh, my." Not that this avoidance of the nominal specific detracts from the verisimilitude of the novel in its depiction of combat; quite the opposite, in fact. "I was with Crane at Antietam," a retired veteran colonel proudly claimed soon after the book appeared.
For the most part, this triumph of conviction proceeds from the writing itself If The Red Badge has a hero, surely that hero is the American language, and yet the major literary influence on Crane in his use of that instrument came from abroad, from France by way of Russia: first from Stendhal, whose Charterhouse of Parma has its young protagonist, Fabrizio del Dongo, flounder about on the field of Waterloo in a state of disoriented confusion much like Henry Fleming's. Crane, it seems, had never read Stendhal, but Tolstoy had, and had learned from him, and Crane learned from Tolstoy, whose Sebastopol came out in translation half a dozen years before the first draft of The Red Badge was put on paper. Crane had read and admired it, but apparently not War and Peace ("It goes on and on like Texas," he is reported to have complained) nor Zola's La D�b�cle, also often cited as an influence, though Crane himself only said of him, "I find him pretty tiresome." In a larger sense his major influences came from life itself, from the people he knew and moved among and the veterans he talked with. For example, "I believe that I got my sense of the rage of conflict on the football field, " he once declared, and his Claverack. training in close-order drill and the manual of arms was of greater use to him than anyone trying to write about army life without such training could ever know.
Impressionist or expressionist, realist or naturalist he was called all those things and more-he did have a credo he stuck to from the start. A preacher's son, he said flatly: "Preaching is fatal to art in literature. I try to give readers a slice out of life, and if there is any moral or lesson in it I do not point it out. I let the reader find it for himself " All unknown, he was combining Emily Dickinson's "Tell all the truth but tell it slant" with John Keats's "negative capability" when he wrote, late in his short life, "An artist, I think, is nothing but a powerful memory that can move itself at will through certain experiences sideways, and every artist must be 'in some things powerless as a dead snake."
Working within this credo and definition, he could be wonderfully exact and at the same time highly evocative in communicating sensation, the sight and sound and feel of an action or an object. Of a green command, ordered into its first shoulder-to-shoulder advance under fire, he writes: "The line fell slowly forward like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive gasp that was intended for a cheer, the regiment began its journey." Up ahead, "The forest made a tremendous objection," and presently, at closer range, "bullets buffed into men" and "grunting bundles of blue began to drop." The attackers bared their teeth as they charged, and "their eyes shone all white." Guyed by veteran units they passed on their withdrawal to the rear, "the men trudged with sudden heaviness, as if they bore upon their bended shoulders the coffin of their honor." Critics might bridle at grammatical lapses and complain that the text fairly bristled with pathetic fallacies--some more pathetic than others-but there could be no denying that what came across in the end had a tactile validity beyond anything of its kind they had encountered in their book-cramped lives. No wonder the old line colonel thought he had fought alongside Crane at Antietam or that other veterans were amazed to learn that the battle he described so well (and from the inside, so to speak, all those thirty years ago) had been fought nearly a decade before he was born.
In time, readers would come to see that there might be more beneath than there was above the novel's surface; reticence was a masking device that magnified even as it concealed. John Berryman, a mid-twentieth century Crane biographer and poet, speaks in this connection of "the immense power of the tacit"; but Frank Norris, a contemporary, put it in simpler terms, remarking that Crane "knew when to shut up." Others who knew him in his life gave other clues. Wells, for example, spoke of his "persistent selection of the elements of an impression." But perhaps the finest assessment of all, from Crane's own day to the present, was given by another British contemporary, Edward Garnett, author of "Mr. Stephen Crane: An Appreciation," the first in-depth study of his work as a whole, up to the time he knew him in England. Garnett revised the piece after Crane's death, adding perceptively: "It is his irony that checks the emotional intensity of his delineation, and suddenly reveals passion at high tension in the clutch of the implacable tides of life. It is the perfect fusion of these two forces of passion and irony that creates Crane's spiritual background, and raises his work, at its finest, into the higher zone of man's tragic conflict with the universe."