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The Red Badge of Courage
An Episode of the American Civil War
There comes a time in the course of battle when a participant casts his fate to the gods of war, and carries on without question, the task at hand. Living, dying, right or wrong, can be contemplated later. The spirit of the bayonet takes over and carries the youth through the crucible of battle to emerge a short time later several ages older.
Stephen Cranes classic novel gives us a glimpse into the mind of a young soldier as he passes through the experience he will never be able to forget, and possibly awaken him from his slumber in a sweat and panic for years to come.
The Red Badge of Courage received generally positive reviews from critics on its initial publication; in particular, it was said to be a remarkably modern and original work. Appleton's 1895 publication went through ten editions in the first year alone, making Crane an overnight success at the age of twenty-four. H. G. Wells, a friend of the author, later wrote that the novel was greeted by an "orgy of praise" in England and the United States.
The novel, however, did have its initial detractors. Some critics found Crane's young age and inexperience troubling, rather than impressive. For example, one reviewer wrote, "As Mr. Crane is too young a man to write from experience, the frightful details of his book must be the outcome of a very feverish imagination." Crane and his work also received criticism from veterans of the war; one in particular, Alexander C. McClurg, a brigadier general who served through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga campaigns, wrote a lengthy letter to The Dial (which his publishing company owned) in April 1896, lambasting the novel as "a vicious satire upon American soldiers and American armies." Author and veteran Ambrose Bierce, popular for his Civil War-fiction, also expressed contempt for the novel and its writer. When a reviewer for The New York Journal referred to The Red Badge of Courage as a poor imitation of Bierce's work, Bierce responded by congratulating them for exposing "the Crane freak". Some reviewers also found fault with Crane's narrative style, grammar mistakes, and apparent lack of traditional plot.
While it eventually became a bestseller in the United States, The Red Badge of Courage was more popular and sold more rapidly in England when it was published in late 1895. Crane was delighted with his novel's success overseas, writing to a friend: "I have only one pride and that is that the English edition of The Red Badge of Courage has been received with great praise by the English reviewers. I am proud of this simply because the remoter people would seem more just and harder to win." Critic, veteran and Member of Parliament George Wyndham called the novel a "masterpiece", applauding Crane's ability to "stage the drama of man, so to speak, within the mind of one man, and then admits you as to a theatre." Harold Frederic wrote in his own review that "If there were in existence any books of a similar character, one could start confidently by saying that it was the best of its kind. But it has no fellows. It is a book outside of all classification. So unlike anything else is it that the temptation rises to deny that it is a book at all". Frederic, who would later befriend Crane when the latter relocated to England in 1897, juxtaposed the novel's treatment of war to those by Leo Tolstoy, Émile Zola and Victor Hugo, all of whose works he believed to be "positively... cold and ineffectual" when compared to The Red Badge of Courage.
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Stephen Crane (1871 - 1900)
Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist.
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