Stephen Crane: A Biography
by R.W. Stallman
George Braziller, 664 pp., $12.50
When Thomas Beer was working on the first biography of Stephen Crane (1923), his publisher engaged a detective agency to help him in his research. Crane, though not yet twenty-nine when he died in 1900, had traveled fast and hard from the New Jersey parsonage in which he had been born, had been in many scrapes, had reported everything from the Bowery to the Greek-Turkish War and the Spanish-American War, had loved many women, had been admired by several first-class writers. There were an extraordinary number of people in his short life, many of whom had tales to tell. There were a lot of secrets; and Crane himself was the biggest secret of all, for he was easy to meet, he put himself on record as the most direct and straightforward of honest American fellows, but there was no clear path between this character and his genius.
So a detective agency no doubt was needed to follow up the amazingly tangled trail Crane had left behind him, and no one could write about Crane at all without being tempted to discover the psychological connection between his self and his work. Besides, Beer was so dependent for material on Crane’s respectable relatives that he omitted to mention the fact that in the last three years of his life Crane had lived with the extraordinary Cora Taylor, whom he had met in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was running an elegant sporting house.
This failure at detail, among other failures in Beer’s mannered but very evocative picture of Crane in all his fin de siècle sauciness and naughtiness, was somewhat repaired by John Berryman in his psychoanalytical critical biography of Crane; more so by Lillian Gilkes in her valuable biography of “Mrs. Stephen Crane”; and most of all by Professor Robert Wooster Stallman in Stephen Crane: An Omnibus, Stephen Crane: Sullivan County Tales and Sketches, Stephen Crane: Letters (with Lillian Gilkes), The War Dispatches of Stephen Crane, The New York City Sketches of Stephen Crane (both edited with E. R. Hagemann). Now we have Professor Stallman’s 664-page biography of Stephen Crane, replete with many quotations from his other studies of Crane, twelve appendices on such topics as early reviews of Crane, parodies of Crane, the condition of the sea after the Commodore disaster (this experience led Crane to write “The Open Boat”), sixty-one pages of notes, and a checklist of writings by and on Stephen Crane.
Whatever Beer’s overlookings and evasions—he was essentially writing a period piece—he did suggest the enormous amount of incident, travel, and evasiveness in Crane’s life. Another thing he did was to make it clear that Crane always “drawled,” so that forever after one imagined Crane making clever conversation, which was Beer’s 1923 idea of a book anyway. But since that innocent time in our literature the inquest into the mysteriousness of the deceased—with Professor Stallman in the lead but by no means the only professor in the field—has …