Stephen Crane and the American Background of Maggie
In part this essay owes its origin to an hour spent in the basement of a secondhand bookstore in Manchester, England, back in the early 1950s. There I came across well-thumbed, cheap English editions of the American sermons of DeWitt Talmage, a celebrity in his day of whom I had never heard. The essay has been cited here and there and reprinted in a couple of collections of writings on Crane Maggie. As reprinted here, it excludes material from the beginning and end which now seems inessential. Feminist scholarship has reinterpreted some of the older attitudes, moral and economic, to the role of prostitution in American life. Some of this work amplifies and modifies the kinds of argument and evidence presented here. See, for example, Laura Hapke, Girls Who Went Wrong: Prostitutes in American Fiction, 1885-1917 ( Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1989).
I wish to take Stephen Crane as an example of an author who has been classified with a fallacious neatness. He is a difficult figure to deal with. His work is uneven, his talent precocious and dazzling. Largely on the strength of his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets ( 1893), Crane has been labeled as a naturalist. As such, he is supposed to have borrowed from other naturalists. Whatever he did not borrow from them, Crane is thought to have got from his own direct experience or to have absorbed at second-hand from the experiences of others (in the case of his Red Badge of Courage, from the experiences of Civil War veterans). Naturalistic influences and personal experiences would seem to fill out the picture completely. But they leave out a great deal of knowledge and