Stephen Crane (1871-1900) was an American short story and fiction writer, most readily recognizable for creating a writing style known as Naturalism. Informed by the works of Charles Darwin, Naturalism employs realistic details of everyday life to imply that the environment is the most influential force in forming a person’s character. Naturalism is often used to reveal the bleak reality of the experiences of the poor and the injustices that they face daily; thus it frequently features a stridently pessimistic tone. Not surprisingly, Crane’s own life featured suffering and poverty. His novella, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, was based in part on his own experiences of tenement life in New York in the early 1890s. Crane died of tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-eight.
Special Collections owns a rare 1893 first edition of Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, autographed by Crane with the following inscription: “This book was written by a young author—Stephen Crane—under the name of Johnston Smith—This copy was presented by the author to J. W. Merrill 1893.” As the inscription indicates, Crane originally published Maggie under the pseudonym Johnston Smith, an act designed to hide his identity after a number of publishers rejected the work because they thought Crane’s description of the grim realities of life in the slums would appall readers. The publishers were right to be hesitant. Forced to finance the novella himself, Crane found Maggie to be a commercial disaster. The novel received encomiums from Hamlin Garland and Howells, but did not receive wider recognition until Crane prepared and published a tamer version in 1896. Out of the 1,100 copies of the first edition that were produced, many have been either lost or destroyed. Crane’s family, shocked at the book’s contents, burned almost all of the copies he had stored in the family’s attic. Special Collections also houses other Crane first editions, such as The Red Badge of Courage, and a large assortment of secondary critical material.