With the exception of Poe, no American writer has proven as challenging to biographers as the author of The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane’s short, compact life—“a life of fire,” he called it—continues to be surrounded by myths and half-truths, distortions and outright fabrications. Mindful of the pitfalls that have marred previous biographies, Paul Sorrentino has sifted through garbled chronologies and contradictory eyewitness accounts, scoured the archives, and followed in Crane’s footsteps. The result is the most complete and accurate account of the poet and novelist written to date.
Whether Crane was dressing as a hobo to document the life of the homeless in the Bowery, defending a prostitute against corrupt New York City law enforcement, or covering the historic charge up the San Juan hills as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War, his adventures were front-page news. From Sorrentino’s layered narrative of the various phases of Crane’s life a portrait slowly emerges. By turns taciturn and garrulous, confident and insecure, romantic and cynical, Crane was a man of irresolvable contradictions. He rebelled against tradition yet was proud of his family heritage; he lived a Bohemian existence yet was drawn to social status; he romanticized women yet obsessively sought out prostitutes; he spurned a God he saw as remote yet wished for His presence.
Incorporating decades of research by the foremost authority on Crane’s work, Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire sets a new benchmark for biographers.
[Sorrentino’s] book offers the most comprehensive picture to date, and it enables us to piece together a new Stephen Crane: a figure as driven to prove his manhood as Jack London; as plaintive about his broken faith as Herman Melville; and as ironic about his personal self, and as recklessly disinclined to take conventional sexual morals seriously, as Oscar Wilde.
Evocative… Sorrentino’s biography gives us Crane in fact and tone… Sorrentino tracks Stephen Crane’s life with lively precision… Stephen Crane: A Life of Fire skillfully amplifies our knowledge of a singular American artist and his brief, uncompromising life.
[A] sturdy new life of Crane… Sorrentino is perceptive.
[Sorrentino’s] Life of Fire is significant in advancing our understanding of Crane, an enigmatic literary prodigy… [An] encyclopedic biography of Crane.
Sorrentino transports readers to the intensely personal battlefields that test Crane’s artistic sincerity while exposing his desperation and loneliness… A revealing portrait, sweeping away the illusions surrounding an enigmatic genius.
What Sorrentino has meticulously pieced together is a remarkable portrait of a writer whose concern for social justice often collided with his inability to realistically discern how physically punishing his adventures would be.
Sorrentino’s authoritative and sympathetic portrait revives a ‘bohemian rebel’ and prolific, groundbreaking writer.
As interesting as the man was, writing about Crane’s life is a challenge. He was famously secretive about himself, leaving few letters behind and no journal… With two books on Crane already under his belt, no author is better placed to navigate this maze than Sorrentino… On balance it’s a valuable corrective to previous accounts.
Stephen Crane seemed elusive to his contemporaries, and he proved equally elusive to generations of biographers. At last, Paul Sorrentino has produced a scrupulously reliable biography that is also wonderfully concise and colorful. It will stand for the foreseeable future as the definitive account of Crane’s life.
- 520 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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