I’ve been casually looking for a copy of John Berryman’s 1950 biography of Stephen Crane for a few years now. Berryman is one of my favorite poets and Crane is one of my favorite short story writers. A write up of Paul Auster’s new Crane bio led me to reread some Crane favorites over the past few weeks, which in turn made me look a bit harder for Berryman’s Stephen Crane. The used bookstore I frequent has something like two and a half million books; I had been looking for the Crane bio in three sections: with Crane’s fiction, in biographies, and in literary criticism. This week I grabbed a stool and searched through the overstock above the Crane section and found what I’d been looking for.
As he points out in his preface, Berryman’s approach is a mix of biography and critical appraisal. Berryman claims that very little was written about Crane’s fiction (apart from The Red Badge of Courage) after his death, and that his (Crane’s) reputation was essentially invisible apart from “the war book” until later modernists took to championing him (much like earlier modernists recovered Herman Melville).
After the preface, I couldn’t help but read some of the section on composing “The Open Boat”; it’s a favorite of mine, I live in Jacksonville, where the story originates, and I use it in the classroom every semester. I also dipped into the penultimate chapter, “Crane’s Art,” which includes this nugget:
…Crane has been dead half a century, academic interest has avoided him as both peculiar and undocumented, and some of his work is still decidedly alive. This is long enough.