Howells, review, Harper's Weekly

26 October 1895, xxxix, 1013


In this short review, Howells implies a preference for Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) over The Red Badge and alludes to comments he had made on the language of Maggie. Although an early critic of Crane's use of profanity, Howells later began to accept Crane's opinion that realism demanded an accurate transcription of slum dialect.

Of our own smaller fiction I have been reading several books without finding a very fresh note except in The Red Badge of Courage, by Mr. Stephen Crane. He is the author of that story of New York tough life, Maggie, which I mentioned some time ago as so good but so impossible of general acceptance because of our conventional limitations in respect of swearing, and some other traits of the common parlance. He has now attempted to give a dose-at-hand impression of battle as seen by a young volunteer in the civil war, and I cannot say that to my inexperience of battle he has given such a vivid sense of it as one gets from some other authors. The sense of deaf and blind turmoil he does indeed give, but we might get that from fewer pages than Mr. Crane employs to impart it. The more valuable effect of the book is subjective: the conception of character in the tawdry-minded youth whom the slight story gathers itself about, and in his comrades and superiors of all sorts. The human commonness (which we cannot shrink from without vulgarity) is potently illustrated throughout in their speech and action and motive; and the cloud of bewilderment in which they all have their being after the fighting begins, the frenzy, the insensate resentment, are graphically and probably suggested. The dialect employed does not so much convince me; I have not heard people speak with those contractions, though perhaps they do it; and in comrnending the book I should dwell rather upon the skill shown in evolvingfrom the youth's crude expectations and ambitions a quiet honesty and self-possession manlier and nobler than any heroism he had imagined. There are divinations of motive and experience which cannot fail to strike the critical reader, from time to time; and decidedly on the psychological side the book is worth while as an earnest of the greater things that we may hope from a new talent working upon a high level, not quite clearly as yet, but strenuously.

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