December 3:Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Couragefirst appeared in print on this day in 1894, a shortened version of the storybeginning serialization in a handful of American newspapers. The popularity ofthe serialization enabled Crane to obtain a publisher, and the first bookedition appeared ten months later, soon becoming an international hit.
Joseph Conrad, born on this day in 1857, was Crane’s closestliterary friend in England. Their friendship began in the fall of 1897, Conradthen reading and admiring Crane’s new book, and Crane reading and praisingConrad’s just-published Nigger of theNarcissus. In Last Essays (1926),Conrad recalls reading Red Badge as”one of the most enduring memories of my literary life,” its uniquewriting style detonating “with the impact and force of a twelve-inch shellcharged with a very high explosive.” But the battle metaphor turns tragicin the last paragraph, where Crane is remembered as his novel’s mortallywounded Tall Soldier, fated “to fall early in the fray.”
In another recollection published long after Crane’s deathin 1900, aged twenty-eight, Conrad provides two snapshots of his young friend.At their first meeting, a few days after his arrival in London, Conraddescribes “Stevie” as “a young man of medium stature and slenderbuild, with very steady, penetrating blue eyes, the eyes of a being who notonly sees visions but can brood over them to some purpose.” Their lastmeeting was on Crane’s last day in England:
It was in Dover, in a big hotel, in a bedroom with a largewindow looking on to the sea. He had been very ill, and Mrs. Crane was takinghim to some place in Germany, but one glance at that wasted face was enough totell me that it was the most forlorn of all hopes. The last words he breathedout 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 headon the pillow and was staring wistfully out of the window at the sails of acutter yacht that glided slowly across the frame, like a dim shadow against thegrey 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.