Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel

( 6 )

Overview

In a damp, old Sussex castle, American literary phenomenon Stephen Crane lies on his deathbed, wasting away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. The world-famous author has retreated to England with his wife, Cora, in part to avoid gossip about her ignominious past as the proprietress of an infamous Florida bordello, the Hotel de Dream. In the midst of gathering tragedy, Crane begins dictating what will surely be his final work: a strange and poignant novel of a boy prostitute in 1890s New York and the ...

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Overview

In a damp, old Sussex castle, American literary phenomenon Stephen Crane lies on his deathbed, wasting away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. The world-famous author has retreated to England with his wife, Cora, in part to avoid gossip about her ignominious past as the proprietress of an infamous Florida bordello, the Hotel de Dream. In the midst of gathering tragedy, Crane begins dictating what will surely be his final work: a strange and poignant novel of a boy prostitute in 1890s New York and the married man who ruins his own life to win his love.

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Editorial Reviews

Sophie Gee
Edmund White, who captured late-20th-century gay New York in his acclaimed autobiographical trilogy, has now written a novel about desire and betrayal in the New York of the late 19th century. The protagonist of Hotel de Dream is the American writer Stephen Crane, who at 28 is dying from tuberculosis in the English countryside. Stevie, as friends call him, lies on his deathbed, struggling to dictate a scandalous novella about a boy prostitute whom he met several years earlier. His amanuensis is his wife, Cora, herself the former proprietor of a brothel in Jacksonville named Hotel de Dream. Cora is foolish, vulgar, tender and perceptive by turns, and her ministration to the dying Crane gives White a frame narrative for this vivid and powerful novel.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A biographical fantasia, White's latest imagines the final days of the poet and novelist Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), who died of TB at age 28 in 1900. At the same time, White also imagines and writes The Painted Boy, a work that he has Crane say he began in 1895, but burned after warnings from a friend. Crane dictates a fresh start on the story to his common-law wife, Cora Stewart-Taylor. Interspersed within White's impressionistic account of Crane's life, The Painted Boy tells the tale of Elliott, a "ganymede butt-boy buggaree." Once a farm boy used by his widowed father and elder brothers like a girl, Elliott escapes to New York and begins a new life as a street hustler. Crane, dying overseas, asks that "someone skilled and open minded" complete the novella. The wry Cora, in her earlier career as a madam at the Jacksonville, Fla. "Hotel de Dream," has some ideas of who among Crane's friends fits the bill. Though White's research and marshaling of slang are impressive, The Painted Boy approaches the sexual frankness of porn and reads improbably. But as White's book(s) build up steam, readers will let go of misgivings, caught up in Elliott's tragic love life and Crane's apocalyptic end. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This latest from novelist/biographer White (e.g., Genet) is another in a long line of speculative fictions delving into the lives of great writers. White's subject is the realist writer and poet Stephen Crane as he lies on his deathbed in Bavaria dictating his final novel about a boy prostitute. Although White is a dazzling, inventive writer, he cannot pull off his imitation of Crane; his sharp, witty verbosity is an ill match for the spare realism of Crane's style. This is unfortunate, for White's descriptions of turn-of-the-century New York City are breathtaking and the plot beyond and around Crane's writing is excellent and compelling. Despite its one weakness, this book is recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07.]
—Christopher Bussmann

Kirkus Reviews
Dying of tuberculosis, Stephen Crane dictates a novel about a boy prostitute in another fact-based fiction from White (My Lives, 2006, etc.). As in Fanny (2003), the author offers a "fantasia on real themes provided by history." Stephen Crane did die in 1900, and his common-law wife Cora did once run a brothel in Florida called the Hotel de Dream. The dying writer may have met a teenaged male prostitute in the 1890s and begun a novel about him; a "Postface" quotes a document left behind by a critic who knew Crane, but acknowledges that it may be a fabrication. It provides a handy jumping-off point, however, for The Painted Boy, White's clever act of literary ventriloquism that applies Crane's trademark stripped-down prose to the subject of homosexuality, so out-of-bounds in the 19th century that White shows the writer's friend and fellow novelist Hamlin Garland telling him, "These are the best pages you've ever written and if you don't tear them up, every last word, you'll never have a career." Interspersed among passages describing Crane's final months, the story of a country boy turned big-city whore and his doomed love for a banker is interesting enough, but without the shock value it would have had in 1900 it seems merely a standard piece of American naturalism. Far better are White's portraits of the earthy Cora and of Crane's literary friends: Henry James, with his elaborate, endless sentences and underlying shrewdness; artistic comrade-in-arms Joseph Conrad, bristling with energy and ideas. Crane's personality is more shadowy, perhaps because his energies are all absorbed by dying. White's best sentences acutely capture the contrast between two writers he admires for very differentreasons: "James had thought about his art for half a century and devoted all his life force to it, but Stevie laughed at it all, would never be caught saying a word about ‘art' . . . and yet Stevie was the great American stylist." A minor effort, but a nice tribute to some of the author's literary progenitors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060852269
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,460,083
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Edmund White is the author of the novels Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and The Married Man; a biography of Jean Genet; a study of Marcel Proust; and, most recently, a memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he has now settled in New York, and he teaches at Princeton University.

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Read an Excerpt

Hotel de Dream
A New York Novel

Chapter One

Cora never thought for a moment that her young husband could die. Other people—especially that expensive specialist who'd come down for the day from London and stuck his long nose into every corner of Brede Place and ended up charging her fifty pounds!—he'd whispered that Stevie's lungs were so bad and his body so thin and his fever so persistent that he must be close to the end. But then, contradicting himself, he'd said if another hemorrhage could be held off for three weeks he might improve.

It was true that she had had a shock the other day when she'd bathed Stephen from head to foot and looked at his body standing in the tub like a classroom skeleton. She'd had to hold him up with one hand while she washed him with the other. His skin was stretched taut against the kettledrum of his pelvis.

And hot—he was always hot and dry. He himself said he was "a dry twig on the edge of the bonfire."

"Get down, Tolstoi, don't bother him," Cora shouted at the tatterdemalion mutt. It slipped off its master's couch and trotted over to her, sporting its feathery tail high like a white standard trooped through the dirty ranks. She unconsciously snuggled her fingers under his silky ears and he blinked at the unexpected pleasure.

The newspapers kept running little items at the bottom of the page headlined, "Stephen Crane, the American Author, Very Ill." The next day they announced that the American author was improving. She'd been the little bird to drop that particular seed about improvement down their gullets.

Poor Stephen—she looked at his head as hegasped on the pillow. She knew that even in sleep his dream was full of deep, beautiful thoughts and not just book-learning! No, what a profound wisdom of the human heart he'd tapped into. And his thoughts were clothed in such beautiful raiments.

This little room above the massive front oak door was his study, where now he was wheezing, listless and half-asleep, on the daybed. The whole room smelled of dogs and mud. At one end, under the couch and Stephen's table, there lay a threadbare Persian carpet, pale and silky but discolored on one side with a large tea-stain the shape of Borneo. At the other end of the room it had amused Stephen to throw rushes on the floor as if he were a merry old soul living in crude, medieval splendor. There were reeds and rushes and grass everywhere downstairs, which confused two of the three dogs, Tolstoi and Spongie, into thinking they were outdoors: they weren't always mindful of their best housebroken comportment.

The maid, a superstitious old thing, had placed a small jar of tar under Stephen's bed. Did she think it would absorb the evil spirits, or hold off the ghosts that were supposed to haunt Brede Place?

Yes, Stephen had all the symptoms, what the doctors called the "diathesis," or look of consumption: nearly transparent skin, through which blue veins could be seen ticking, and a haggard face and a cavernous, wheezing chest. His hair was as lank and breakable as old lamp fringe. His voice was hoarse from so much coughing and sometimes he sounded as if he were an owl hooting in the innermost chamber of a deep cave. He complained of a buzzing in the ears and even temporary deafness, which terrified a "socialist" like him, the friendliest man on earth (it was Cora's companion, the blameless but dim Mrs. Ruedy, who had worked up this very special, facetious, meaning of socialist). Cora wondered idly if Mrs. Ruedy was back in America yet—another rat deserting the sinking ship.

Cora glimpsed something bright yellow and pushed back Stephen's shirt—oh! the doctor had painted the right side of his torso with iodine. At least they weren't blistering him. She remembered how one of the "girls" in her house, the Hotel de Dream, in Jacksonville, had had those hot jars applied to her back and bust in order to raise painful blisters, all to no avail. She'd already been a goner.

"Hey, Imogene," Stephen murmured, his pink-lidded eyes fluttering open. He smiled, a faint echo of his usual playfulness. He liked to call her "Imogene Carter," the nom de plume she'd made up for herself when she was a war correspondent in Greece and which she still used for the gossip columns and fashion notes she sent to American newspapers.

"What is it, Stevie?" she asked, crouching beside him.

"Tell me," he said, "is the truth bitter as eaten fire?"

Oh, she thought. He's quoting himself. One of his poems. A kind of compliment, probably, since in the very next stanza, she recalled, there was something about his love living in his heart. Or maybe it was just idle chatter and all he wanted was something to say, something that would hold her there.

"I see," he said in so soft a whisper that she had to bend her ear closer to his lips, "I see you're airing your hair." He was making fun of her habit of loosening her long golden hair two or three hours every day and letting it flow over her shoulders. Arnold Bennett had been horrified, she'd been told, by her undressed hair when he dropped in unexpected for lunch one day. He'd told Mrs. Conrad (who'd unkindly passed the gossip along) that Cora's Greek sandals and her diaphanous chiton-like wrapper and loose hair made her look "horrible, like an actress at breakfast." But Mr. Bennett didn't have much hair nor would it ever have been his chief glory. There was nothing glorious about him except his prose, and that only intermittently.

No, Cora firmly believed that a woman must let her hair down every day for a spell if it were to remain vigorous and shiny (she'd heard that Sarah Bernhardt did the same; at sixty she looked thirty).

Hotel de Dream
A New York Novel
. Copyright © by Edmund White. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    Hoxton

    Hey hunter you ready to die

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    Hunter

    I talk at yers and after seti mainly on as much as i can be.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    Hailey

    Her blue eye search him* "I see.."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 13, 2009

    Beautiful and thought provoking

    I am still haunted by the characters in this story although it has already been a couple months or more since I read the book. I found the story between Stephen Crane and his common law wife Cora incredibly touching, and the secondary story between the Painted Boy and his lover painful and sad. I think Edmund White is a talented writer able to capture the mood and nuances of the era, its characters and textures, which make for a story rich in layers,complexity and subtleties. I found myself thinking about the hardship of survival on the streets when there wasn't many charitable resources...how did someone keep their humanity and dignity? I also found myself thinking how sad to lose a talented writer like Stephen Crane at only 28 years old and what we lost in potential work. If an author is able to elicit the small fraction of emotions and responses to his story that I briefly captured in this review then he deserves respect and recognition for his tremendous talent as a writer. Hotel de Dream is a book for any permanent library shelf and transcends any preconceived notions about what makes a beautiful love story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2007

    The Painted Boy: Resurrection from the Deathbed of Stephen Crane

    Edmund White, gratefully, is a prolific writer, a gifted man of letters who has become one of America's more important authors. While much of Edmund White's oeuvre is about gay life, he does not confine his talent to the one topic: he is a brilliant biographer, a fine man of research, and a poet with prose. HOTEL DE DREAM: A New York Novel is his latest foray into fictional biography and for this reader the book succeeds on every level. The short novel is ostensibly a 'biographical' account of the sadly brief life of novelist Stephen Crane, a nineteenth century literary giant who is best known for THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, but who also wrote a few other short novels and story collections. Basing the concept of this novel on both fact and fantasy, Edmund White gives us the last days of Stephen Crane's life, a tortured existence as he succumbed to tuberculosis, nursed by his beloved mistress Cora, an ex-Madame who had run a bordello in Florida called the Hotel de Dream. Crane had in fact befriended a poor youth who happened to be a male prostitute infected with syphilis: White takes this fact and uses it as a unique approach to explore the mind of Crane, using the fragment of thought that Crane was planning to create a story 'Flowers of Asphalt' based on the sad lad as the impetus for this brilliant book, the composition of a final novel called 'The Painted Boy.' The novel deals with myriad aspects of Crane's life, but in the end it focuses on Crane dictating to Cora a 'fictionalized' story about a married banker, Theodore, who becomes enamored with a teenage, poor, syphilitic hustler named Elliott, only to find that his coming to grips with buried secrets of lust (tenderly satisfied by the very lovable Elliott) plunges him into a downward spiral that ends with a series of tragedies that parallel Stephen Crane's own consumptive death from tuberculosis. As Crane lies dying he shares his ideas for the conclusion of the story with the stalwart Cora, asking her to present the manuscript to Crane's respected colleague Henry James to complete after Crane dies. The story ends with a surprise that traces a circle to the beginning: the period of the turn of the century simply was not the time a story such as 'A Painted Boy' could be published. Edmund White's ability to create a novel within a novel in such a fascinatingly credible manner is matched only by his gift for writing some of the most beautiful prose before us today. He understands character development, he knows the agony of personal tragedy, and his intellectual honesty dissects history so smoothly that his novel feels like true biography. And yet he takes the time to pause for moments of writing that are so touching they make the reader reflect with respect: 'He glanced down and saw that his sheet was stained yellow. He must have pissed himself. He started to cry. So it's come to this, he thought. He'd gone back to infancy and incontinence - with this difference: an infant has everything ahead of him and a loud tamtam is beating in his heart with anticipation, where as he, Stephen, felt the rhythm slowing into a valedictory murmur./ He was so ashamed of himself.' HOTEL DE DREAM is a brilliant little novel and should please lovers of historical fiction as well as readers who long to find tomes of gleaming, eloquent writing. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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