Crane (1871-1900) saw life as hard, perhaps ruthless. Most of the writing he published during his short life was bleakly realistic, dealing with the poor and degraded. His style has been called realistic, naturalistic, and impressionistic. Like the impressionist painters, he tried to give an accurate rendering of the scene as a whole rather than concentrating on detail. His style is also marked by the use of vivid color and imagery.
In many ways Crane's life resembles his adventures stories, though his childhood was quite conventional. He was born in New Jersey in 1871; when he was small his ill health was partly responsible for his family's move to upstate New York. His father was a Methodist minister, and the family was a large, happy one. When the Rev. Crane died, Stephen's mother earned money by writing articles for religious papers.
As he grew up, however, Stephen found his parents' religion irrelevant to the hard life he saw, and he indulged in many of the sins they had forbidden. One of the forbidden pleasures was baseball, a sport at which Crane excelled. He might have become a professional player, but an older brother urged him to go to college instead. He spent a year at Lafayette College and a year at Syracuse University, where he spent more time on baseball and social activities than he spent on his studies.
Crane left school in 1891, preferring to study humanity, he said, and became a reporter on the newspaper for which his brother worked. However, when he wrote too sympathetically about a workers' strike, both he and his brother lost their jobs.
The next year Crane moved to the Bowery in New York, where he lived amidst the poverty he liked to write about. During this period he met Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells, two other realist writers who helped him in his work. At this time he also met the painters whose impressionism influenced his work, and wrote a novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. No one would publish the grimly realistic book, and when Crane printed it at his own expense, book sellers would not handle it and no one bought it.
Soon after, in 1895, Crane published The Red Badge of Courage; it was serialized in newspapers and was an immediate success. Then the demand for Maggie and for Crane's newspaper stories began to increase. Now a celebrity, Crane was sent by newspapers to the West and to Mexico to gather ideas for stories. He also published a book of poems, The Black Riders.
The next year, accompanying a group of filibusterers--men going to aid Cuban revolutionaries¡XCrane was shipwrecked and spent 27 hours at sea in a small boat with three other men. His newspaper report and later his short story "The Open Boat" were dramatic accounts of the fear, courage, and endurance of the men.
Crane next reported on the Greco-Turkish war in 1897; this was the first experience in war for the man who had written The Red Badge of Courage two years earlier. For that book, Crane had imagined his feelings in combat, drawing on the emotions he observed while playing football. After experiencing war in Greece, he felt more certain that his book had been accurate and wrote: The Red Badge is all right." Despite this, he referred to the book and its success as "a mere incident"; he preferred poetry, which he felt gave a fuller picture of his philosophy.
After the war, Crane settled in England, where he became friends with such authors as Joseph Conrad and Henry James. At the beginning of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Crane tried to enlist in the American navy, but was rejected because he had tuberculosis. Despite this, he went to Cuba as war correspondent.
Crane's exertions in Cuba did further damage to his health. He returned to England and then went to Germany in the hope of improving his health. He died soon after reaching Germany in June 1900.