Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest child of the Reverend Dr. Jonathan Townley Crane and Mary Helen Peck Crane. The Cranes dated their roots in New Jersey back to 1665, when an ancestor also named Stephen Crane had settled in the area. The Reverend Crane died on February 16, 1880, after a brief illness. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Crane moved her family to the nearby town of Roseville. In 1882 the Cranes moved to Asbury Park, a seaside town on the Jersey shore where Crane attended school for the next six years.
In 1888 Crane enrolled at Hudson River Institute (also called Claverack College), a semi-military academy. Crane entered Hudson with a less than stellar academic background, but although he failed to post an impressive academic record here, too, he did enjoy the cadet life at the academy. He stayed at Hudson for two years, working summers at his brother’s news service in Asbury Park, and it was during these years that he began his lifelong rebellion against religious dogmatism. In 1890 Crane entered Lafayette College, which, like Hudson, was a Methodist school. He rarely attended classes, failed his courses, and dropped out at the end of the semester. His next school was Syracuse University, where again he lasted for only one semester. While there, in 1891, Crane wrote the first draft of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. After returning to New Jersey, he met Hamlin Garland, an established writer of realistic fiction who exerted a strong influence on Crane’s writing.
In the fall of 1891 Crane moved to New York City, where he lived with art students in a boarding house and explored the slums of the city, particularly the Bowery. Following the advice of his mentor, Garland-who maintained that in order to depict slum life realistically, a writer must experience the pain endured by slum dwellers-Crane visited soup kitchens and other places where poor people congregated. Crane knew genuine deprivation during this period, and his health, never robust, was weakened. For the rest of his life he had a racking cough and a low resistance to disease. The Bowery became the fictional locale for Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which was privately printed in 1893. The novel won the praise of William Dean Howells, an important writer whom Crane met through Garland.
In 1894 an abridged version of The Red Badge of Courage, which Crane had started writing the previous year, was published by the Bacheller Syndicate in its newspapers. Crane traveled in the West and Mexico from January to May 1895, and returned to see a book version of The Red Badge of Courage published by D. Appleton and Company in October. Before going West, Crane had become infatuated with a beautiful young society girl, Nellie Crouse. Some of his most revealing letters were written to her. Largely uninterested in social status, which was very important to Crouse, Crane knew his infatuation was hopeless. Their relationship was limited to the seven letters he sent her.
George’s Mother, another novel set in the New York slums, and a revised version of Maggie were both published in June 1896. That December, The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War was published. These stories capitalized on the success of The Red Badge of Courage, and Crane was now obsessed with the wish to see a war firsthand. An attempt to reach revolution-torn Cuba failed when his ship sank off the coast of Florida on January 2, 1897. “The Open Boat,” published in June, is a fictionalized account of Crane’s experiences as he and three others rowed through high seas to shore.
Having failed to reach Cuba, Crane decided to go to Greece to cover the Greco-Turkish War. He was accompanied by Cora Taylor, whom he had met while waiting for passage to Cuba in Jacksonville, Florida, where she ran a bordello. Both Crane and Taylor worked as war correspondents in Greece. Twice divorced and five years older than Crane, Taylor was still legally married to an Englishman who refused to grant her a divorce. Nonetheless, Crane and Taylor were married on August 25, 1898. After covering the war in Greece, the couple settled in England, where Crane made friends with many leading writers of the time, including Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford, and Henry James. Always short of funds, the Cranes nonetheless entertained lavishly at their elegant house in Ravensbrook. Crane wrote constantly, but could not become solvent. When the United States and Spain went to war in Cuba in 1898, he sailed for New York, having borrowed money from Conrad and other friends. The U.S. Navy would not accept Crane as a seaman, but he was hired by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World as a war correspondent. In Cuba, fellow correspondents were impressed by his courage.
In 1897 Crane had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, but the disease seemed to be in remission. While in Cuba, however, he fell ill with malaria, an event that possibly reactivated his tuberculosis. His health deteriorating, Crane still managed to get out his dispatches, some of which rank among his best work as a reporter. Fired by Pulitzer as the result of a misunderstanding, he returned to New York and was hired by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal as a war correspondent. In all, Crane covered the war from April to November 1898. Meanwhile, several of his better stories had been published, including “The Monster,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Blue Hotel.”
Crane returned home to England in 1898, and he and Taylor moved to Brede Manor, Sussex. As their extravagance continued, Crane, gravely ill, turned his hand to any kind of writing to pay his debts. He published a novel, Active Service, in 1899, its quality far below his usual standard. A volume of poems, War Is Kind, also appeared in 1899.
During a large Christmas week party at Brede, on December 29, 1899, Crane collapsed with a severe pulmonary hemorrhage. He died on June 5, 1900, at a sanatorium in Badenweiler, Germany. The Whilomville Stories and Wounds in the Rain were published posthumously the same year.