Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: The Sword in the Stone

Book Name: The Sword in the Stone
Author: T.H. White
First Published: 1938

T.H. White was born in Bombay, British India, to Garrick Hanbury White and Constance White. His parents separated when he was fourteen years of age and he returned to England to finish his schooling in Gloucestershire. He later studied at Queens’ College in Cambridge where he was tutored by scholar and author L.J. Potts. Potts would become his friend and correspondent throughout his life. White considered him to be “the great literary influence in my life.” It was at Queens’ College that White wrote a thesis on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and was exposed to the legends of King Arthur.

After his graduation in 1928 he began teaching and to write. His first novels were science fiction. Earth Stopped in 1934 and its sequel Gone to Ground in 1935 concerned dystopian themes. Once they were completed, White was searching for a new subject to write about. He wrote to a friend in 1937, “I got desperate among my books and picked [Malory] up in lack of anything else. Then I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognizable reactions which could be forecast[...] Anyway, I somehow started writing a book.”

This book was The Sword in the Stone, which White considered a preface to Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that he had written his thesis upon. It would bring a child’s delight to the story of Arthur’s early days and was influenced by Freudian psychology and White’s love of natural history. The book became a Book of the Month Club selection in 1939.

In 1939 White moved to Ireland where he remained during the second world war as a conscientious objector. During his time there, he wrote the sequels to The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood and the Ill-Made Knight.

White died of heart failure in 1964 while aboard a ship en route from Piraeus, Greece after a lecture tour in the United States. He is buried in Athens and his papers are held by the University of Texas at Austin, USA. White had no children and was never married.

Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of all England.

The Sword in the Stone began as a single novel, but later became the first tome of the classic series The Once and Future King. Of all five books, it is the most lighthearted and could be considered a young adult novel. The rest of the series is darker and clearly for adult readers. The Sword in the Stone follows the story of a young orphan boy who is nicknamed “Wart”. He lives with Sir Ector, a knight of the King and works as a page in medieval Great Britain. One day, while retrieving one of Sir Ector’s birds, which his foster brother Kay has lost, he meets Merlin, a wise wizard who lives his life backwards, growing young as the years go by. Merlin knows Wart’s true heritage and has come to tutor the boy. He becomes both Wart’s and Kay’s teacher.

Merlin and Wart go on a series of learning adventures, each one designed to teach Wart the skills necessary to become a great and wise ruler. Wart rescues people with Robin Hood and Maid Marian, goes on a quest with King Pellinore for a beast, and turns into a wide variety of animals to experience the world in new and more interesting perspectives. In the end, he gains enough knowledge and wisdom to fulfill his destiny, to pull Excalibur from the anvil and be proclaimed the rightful King of England. For Wart is actually King Arthur of Camelot and he will become the stuff of legends.

The Once and Future King is a reworking of Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th Century romance, Le Morte d’Arthur. In fact T.H. White wrote in a cameo appearance for Malory as one of the historical figures that populate the tales. While the first book is light-hearted and has a boy protagonist, White follows the entire life of King Arthur including many of the darker aspects of his life in the later books. This is not a series for children, although The Sword in the Stone can be thought of as a young adult novel. The books are full of medieval references that could be confusing to those that are not familiar with common terms of the time period, yet the writing style is quite readable and as the story continues, the darker side of man is revealed.

The Sword in the Stone was made into a famous cartoon by Walt Disney in 1963. The movie features a famous battle between Merlin and the Sorceress Madam Mim. This battle was removed from later editions of the novel by the author and usually is not found in the later collections of the series. Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 musical “Camelot” is based on the last two books of The Once and Future King series and later this musical was turned into a movie of the same name in 1967.

You’ll find references to these stories woven into our pop culture from the Broadway musical and the movie, to its being an inspiration to author J.K. Rowling as she wrote her Harry Potter series and to Neil Gaimann’s character of Tim Hunter. If you enjoy the legends of King Arthur or stories about the middle ages and have some familiarity with the time period, you will find this series of books to be enjoyable.

The Sword in the Stone Book CoverThe Once and Future King

The Sword in the Stone (1938)
The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939, original version The Witch in the Wood)
The Ill-Made Knight (1940)
The Candle in the Wind (1958)
The Book of Merlyn (1977)

Author Interview: Christine Frost

Christine Frost is a historical and speculative fiction author who explores the lives of real women in history. It is a pleasure to introduce her here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Christine FrostMy name is Christine Frost, and I’ve been working in publishing and communications for nearly 20 years. I’m also a teaching assistant and writing instructor for literature courses at Harvard Extension School. In addition to writing novels, I study world history, and it serves as the core inspiration for the stories I create. I love to cook, and whenever possible, I integrate that passion into my novels; I run a series on my blog about the history of cooking in fiction. I live in the Boston area with my husband, and we enjoy Renaissance festivals and everything from sci-fi to historical and epic fantasy series.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I used to staple paper together in elementary school and write and illustrate stories, and during high school, I was very introverted and spent much of my time working on a fantasy trilogy that I’m still developing, though it’s changed a lot. But it all coalesced in the summer of 1994, when my brother died in an accident. He had just recommended that I watch The Crow, starring Brandon Lee. I saw it with his friends while the funeral was being planned, and the movie had an enormous impact on me. The sudden loss threw me into a tailspin—so I began writing a massive work, a dark urban fantasy that was very much influenced by the movie. It was my way of keeping his memory alive. Like the fantasy trilogy I wrote in high school, it remains unfinished and is being redeveloped, but it was while writing that story to help me deal with the grief that I realized I wanted to be an author.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I started working on my master’s degree in literature and creative writing. At the end of a graduate certificate program for communications, I took a creative writing workshop, which led to me applying for the master’s program. I took a number of workshops and courses having to do with medieval literature, such as one on Tolkien’s influences. It was then I really learned how to focus on following through with a story and come to appreciate the intensive revising process.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Dark Lady of Doona is about Grania O’Malley, who is also known as the Irish pirate queen. While I’m a sticker for verisimilitude in my work, the premise is based on speculation that she may have served as a spy in order to help retain her territory at a time when the English were especially brutal in Ireland. So, while it is historical fiction, it has elements of a spy novel, only set in the 1500s during the time of Elizabeth I. It’s about Grania’s strength—in protecting her family, in being a formidable captain who commanded hundreds of men, and making a mark on history at a time when women weren’t as visible in the public realm.

What inspired you to write this book?

The more I read, the more unusual women I find who have been marginalized by history. I want to give them a voice and let them tell their story. It began with my first novel, about the consort to Romanian warlord Vlad Dracula. I have a long list of stories to write based on this idea, and they span all eras and places, from ancient Mesopotamia to Maine during the War of 1812 and beyond. Grania O’Malley was particularly inspiring to me, and learning about medieval Ireland was a wonderful opportunity to explore my family’s heritage.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’d say it’s changed over the years. I was strongly influenced by dense, very complex Gothic novels, but have learned to pare down wording and structure. What I’ve learned from teaching writing is that developing a writing style is always a work in progress.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Grania O’Malley earned the nickname Dark Lady of Doona after conquering a castle. She sought vengeance against a rival clan who killed a lover, and Doona was the name of the castle. As soon as I saw the name while doing research for the book, I knew it had to be the title. It’s poignant, yet shows her tremendous fortitude.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I love finding these incredible women and showing how powerful they were in what has traditionally been considered a man’s world. And it’s never an easy road, no matter what their station in life. They’re often the outliers, the rebels who have a hand in shaping history, even though the recognition was slight or late in the coming. I hope that readers will see Grania O’Malley as a symbol of perseverance—and that it may spark an interest in delving into history to see what fascinating things are there that have important lessons to teach all of us.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I don’t think so. People who know me well may be able to identify little things, quirks and behaviors that help with characterization, but overall, I try to create an authentic portrait for these historical figures, so I stick to what I’ve learned through my research.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

My early years were influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake’s fabulous Gormenghast series, and Neil Gaiman. I love epic fantasy in particular, but Neil Gaiman’s innovative style and how he uses myth and urban fantasy is very inspirational to me. In recent years, I’ve become fond of Modernist authors such as John Dos Passos, and reading Cormac McCarthy was a game-changer in terms of learning about how beautifully lyrical yet sparse writing styles can be, even when portraying the depths of the bleakest worlds.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I’ve been fortunate in this regard. When working on my master’s, I had the opportunity to learn from Stratis Haviaris, who was the founding editor of the Harvard Review, and Paul Harding, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Tinkers in 2010. I’m immensely grateful to have been able to work with them both.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I have a background in graphic design, so I did this one myself.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Never give up. All too often, as a student and teacher, I’ve heard people say writing is hard. It is, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Dig deep—get into the soul of your writing style by reading your work out loud; don’t be afraid to revise until it feels right—you’ll know when it resonates with you. And like many other writers advise, read as much as possible. Go outside of your favorite genres and explore everything you can. You never know what amazing new influences you may gain.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you to all the readers out there! Your feedback and reviews have helped me evolve as a writer, and I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of you.

Dark Lady of Doona  Book CoverChristine Frost
Boston, MA

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Book Review: The Good Earth

Book Name: The Good Earth
Author: Pearl S. Buck
First Published: 1931
Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1932

Born in 1892, Pearl Sydenstricker was the fourth of seven children to Southern Presbyterian missionaries Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker. Her birth was at the end of their furlough in the United States and when Pearl was three months old, the family returned to China and it was there that the author would spend the majority of the first forty years of her life. The family lived in Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu province, and then in a small city lying at the junction of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal. Her father was away from home most of the time, in search of new Christian converts, and her mother spent her time raising her children and ministering to the local Chinese women in a small dispensary that she had established.

In her memoir, Pearl S Buck recalled that she lived in “several worlds,” one was the “small, white, clean Presbyterian world of my parents,” and this was surrounded by the “big, loving, merry, not-too-clean, Chinese world.” There was little connection between these two cultures as she grew up. Pearl was taught western customs and English by her mother, classic Chinese by a hired tutor, and learned the local dialect from her Chinese friends. A few years later, Pearl was enrolled in a local western school and was dismayed by the attitudes of her fellow students, who could not speak Chinese and did not view the Chinese people as equals. This dismay would stay with her and influence much of her writing in later years. She took a fancy to the novels of Charles Dickens, which her father disapproved of, and included a reading of his novels once a year in addition to the other books she read.

When Pearl S. Buck was of college age, she returned to the United States and enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia and graduated there in 1914. She had intended to remain in the United States, but was given word that her mother was ill and so returned to be with her in China. In 1915, Pearl met a young agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck and they married in 1917. The couple moved to an impoverished village in rural Anhui province. It was in this community that the author gathered the material that would later serve as the foundation research for her novel The Good Earth and other stories that she would write about Chinese culture.

Pearl and Lossing’s marriage was rocky from the start, but they remained together for eighteen years before divorcing. Their daughter Carol was born in 1921. The child was diagnosed with PKU and retarded. In addition, during Carol’s delivery, a uterine tumor was discovered in Pearl and she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy. Several years later, Pearl and Lossing would adopt a baby girl named Janice, but would continue to care for Carol as best they could.

From 1920 through 1933, Pearl and Lossing lived on the campus of Nanking University where both were teachers. When Pearl’s mother died, her father came to live with them. Tensions both inside their family and the outside world came to a head in 1927 during the “Nanking Incident” where a battle involving Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist troops, communist forces, assorted warlords and several westerners were murdered. The Buck family spent a chilling day in hiding until they were rescued by American gunboats. The Americans took them to Japan where they remained in safety until they were able to return to Nanking.

It was during this frenzied time that Pearl had begun to publish essays and short stories in magazines such as Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and Atlantic Monthly. In 1931, her second novel, The Good Earth, would be published by the John Day Company. It would become a best-selling novel, win the Pulitzer Prize and Howells Medal in 1935, be adapted as a major MGM film starring Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in 1937, and be instrumental in her gaining the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was the first American woman to claim that honor.

As Pearl’s first marriage crumbled and the circumstances in China deteriorated, she decided to return to the United States on a permanent basis. She was now married to Richard Walsh, the editor that handled her books at the John Day Company, and she wanted to be closer to him and to her daughter Carol, whom had been placed in an New Jersey institution. Pearl and Richard bought an old farmhouse called Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The couple adopted six children together. Pearl founded “Welcome House”, the first international, inter-racial adoption agency that helped Amerasian children who would otherwise not be eligible for adoption. She also established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation which helps children in Asian countries. Pearl S. Buck lived to be 81 years of age and is buried at Green Hills Farm.

The Good Earth begins when Chinese Farmer Wang Lung walks to the noble house of Hwang in a nearby town to procure the slave that his father has arranged to be his wife. He arrives with peaches as a wedding gift and buys a little pork for their meager wedding feast. O-Lan proves to be a supportive and hardworking wife, joining Wang Lung out in the fields, and providing him with sons and a daughter. While they are poor, the couple is content. They work hard on their farm and slowly, Wang Lung earns enough to be able to buy some of the land from the House of Hwang. The desire to own land is the one thing that sets Wang Lung apart from the other farmers. Part of this desire is from pride, but he also realizes that owning good farm land is key to his providing the necessary cushion to keep himself and his family from starvation during lean years. As a man, he loves working his crops and bringing them to harvest and this fierce love of the land is the one constant in his life.

A famine comes and wipes out everything that they have. Wang Lung and his family must flee to the south in order to find food. He sells everything that he has left except for his land and house. In the southern city, O-Lan and the children beg and Wang Lung pulls a rickshaw. While they do not stave, they remain in poverty, and have little hope of returning to their house and farm. Wang Lung also lives in fear of being conscripted into the army. During this time his eldest daughter becomes mentally handicapped as a result of severe malnutrition. Wang Lung calls her his “little fool”. Their second daughter is born and she is killed to spare her the misery of living in hardship. This allows the resources they have to help the others survive.

When food riots break out in the city, Wang Lung joins a mob that loots a rich man’s house. He confronts the owner of the home and the man offers him all his money in exchange for mercy. At the same time, O-lan finds jewels in another house and hides them on her person. The money that Wang Lung is given is enough to take his family back home to the farm. He is able to buy a new ox, farm tools and a few workers to help him on the land. Later, O-lan confesses to the possession of the jewels, and Wang Lung takes them from her, except for a pair of seed pearls that she coveted. With the money from the jewels, Wang Lung buys all of the land of the House of Hwang.

Wang Lung now is a prosperous man, but while his income is secure, inter-family problems begin to surface and take him away from his former work ethic and honesty. His sons, who he worked hard to send to school, now do not wish to work the land. Wang Lung himself suffers a mid-life crisis. He falls for a younger woman named Lotus and takes her on as a mistress. He ignores the wife that stood by him during the hard times, calling her plain. One day, he removes the pair of seed pearls that O-Lan had asked to keep and makes them into earrings for his mistress. This breaks his wife’s heart and she sickens with illness and eventually dies. Only when she is gone does Wang Lung realize what she means to him.

As an old man, Wang Lung seeks to find peace. His first and second sons are constantly arguing, and their wives do not get along. They talk about selling the land and do not have the same values as their father. Wang Lung’s third son runs away to join the army. There is no one left but his “little fool” and the land. The old man tries to warn his sons that to lose the land is to lose everything. They assure him that they will never sell the farm, but over his head they smile knowingly at each other.

The Good Earth works on many levels. It is a depiction of a culture that little was known of when the book was first published, showing how these people chose to live without making comments or passing judgment on their customs, such as selling girls into slavery or binding their feet which we would find horrifying today. Instead Buck portrays what happens as the way these people live and lets the facts speak for themselves. The story also works as a family drama with all the interpersonal relationships and the cyclic nature of their rags to riches story. Despite that the novel is set in a time and place that is foreign to many of us in the modern world, the characters are real and are easy to relate to, even with the cultural differences. Wang Lung is not all that different from any modern American farmer, except he walks to the local tea house to shoot the breeze instead of driving his truck to the local bar in Oklahoma. This classic novel is one of my personal favorites and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list.

The Good Earth Book CoverThe House of Earth Series:

The Good Earth (1931)
Sons (1932)
A House Divided (1935)

Author Interview: Daniel F. Bowman

Daniel F. Bowman writes historical fiction focusing on clashing cultures. He is the winner of a publishing contest by Creative Print Publishing in the UK. I am very pleased to welcome Daniel here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Daniel F. BowmanBesides writing historical fiction, I enjoy an eclectic range of hobbies: playing piano and composing music, hand balancing, reading Greek, Hebrew and Latin, and teaching English as a Second Language to students from over fifteen countries. I’m married to my first and only girlfriend, and I play at the park with my two young children, as this gives me an excuse to hang on the monkey bars. We live in West Michigan.

When and why did you begin writing?

When I was a child, I wrote 1½-page stories of alien abductions, quitting before the main character ever made it to the spacecraft! I also liked the idea of writing pirate novels, though these always fell apart after the third mutiny—lack of ideas! During college, I began writing a couple fantasy stories, which flopped because I never knew the endings.

I found the solution to my problem to this problem while watching a History Channel episode about the Goths. I stared at the screen as I heard how a group of farmer-soldiers was cheated by Rome but stood against her, though she was the greatest empire in the world. They refused to put up with her abuse. The program ended: “Oppression sires rebellion, and when pushed too far, even the weak and the shattered can rise to challenge their oppressor.”

This story had a clear outline for me: I knew how the book would end, as well as where the characters had to be on certain dates. At the same time, the lack of details in this time period gave me freedom.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I would define a writer as someone who not just completed a written work but improved it to the point of getting positive feedback from others, whether or not it is published. I was definitely a writer by the time I completed the rough draft of Alaric.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

“Alaric, Child of the Goths” is about Alaric, the son of a Gothic clan leader, who wants nothing more than to live an adventure. That is, until his young life is interrupted by a series of brutal acts: the raiding of the savage Huns, the cruel trickery of greedy Roman officials, and the murder of his father. Meanwhile, another clan leader named Fritigern leads the Goths in battle against Rome’s armies. But they endure—and from that moment on, they are driven to survive in the face of death, to make a home for their people, and to exact revenge on Rome at the epic battle of Adrianople.

It is the first book in a trilogy which will trace Alaric as he grows up in a foreign land divided between conflicting nationalities—his Gothic ancestry and his Roman citizenship. This struggle will culminate as Alaric is forced to decide between settling for less than he deserves or risking everything in order to gain what no one will give him: the highest rank in the Roman army.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

As a trilogy about the main character, each part of the trilogy has his name and his primary characteristic in its story.

“Alaric, Child of the Goths”
“Alaric, Soldier of Rome”
“Alaric, Enemy of Rome”

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I want readers to feel that they have hope no matter what happens. Nothing is decided until it is over.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Stephen R. Lawhead is my favorite. He has written fantasy and sci-fi, along with historical fiction (usually with a fantasy twist). I’ve read his “Song of Albion” and “King Raven” series numerous times. Even though I know what will happen, I can’t wait to experience it again.
Bernard Cornwell’s “Warlord Trilogy” is like Lawhead’s—I’m always ready to enter that world again.

Steven Pressfield has the best descriptions of the brutality of the past, most notably the training of the Spartans in “Gates of Fire.” He also has the best one liner, aptly spoken by a laconic Spartan officer at Thermopolae, following a day of holding off the Persian hordes: “Not today, you sons of whores! Not today!”

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Creative Print Publishing (in the UK) held a writing competition in 2012. From over 600 entries, I was one of twelve winners. Each winner received publication and a cover designed by Phillip Grizzell. As a first time indie writer, this was an excellent beginning. I spent no money on publishing, only on copies for signings and giveaways.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

The best advice is often the most obvious. For some reason, all of us want the secret formula that guarantees success, while ignoring the common sense and hard work necessary to achieve it.

In order to write well:

1. Read actively.

Depending on your schedule, set a goal. It may be one novel a week, whatever you can handle.

Try to read the 100 books that are most similar to what you wish to write. This helps you find your niche (how your book is unique) as well as what people expect from your genre.

But don’t get stuck on your genre. As you read others, pay attention to characters that you like (or hate). What can you use from the battles, scenic descriptions, dialogues?

If you don’t have time to read, get audio books. I listen to these on my commute, while I wash dishes, and as I fall asleep.

2. Write consistently.

Again, set a goal. 1,000 words per day seems like a noble goal. But pick a number you can easily achieve.

As you write, keep track of things you’ll need to change. But keep going! It’s more important to finish a rough draft than to make a good rough draft.

3. Test regularly.

It’s great if you love your book. It’s better if others love it, too.

Share it with friends and family. (Especially if they can give you more input than just “Good job.”) During this time, don’t even look at it. This way you can later read it fresh.

You need to know that your book is the best you can make it, so that you don’t give up when rejection letters arrive.
When it’s ready, sent it to competitions, agents, publishers.

In sum: set goals, stay consistent, and enjoy meeting your characters and building your world!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you! Write to ask questions or talk about Alaric. As a newer author, I will respond.

I also want to brag about my wife Amanda, the unsung heroine of this project. She not only read and edited the book multiple times, but she also designed the map and spent way too much time listening to me repeat myself as I kept telling her what was happening as I wrote it.

Thanks for your time and questions, Wendy.

You are very welcome, Daniel! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed here on No Wasted Ink.

Alaric Child of Goths Book CoverDaniel F. Bowman
West Michigan, USA

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Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

Book Name: The Red Badge of Courage
Author: Stephen Crane
First Published: 1895

Stephen Crane was born in 1871 and only lived a scant 28 years. His work was noted as being in the realist tradition and would prove to be some of the earlier examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. It is said that had he lived longer, his reputation as an author of American literature might have rivaled Mark Twain.

His schooling began at Pennington Seminary, a ministry-focused boarding school not far from his home. His mother had taken ill and there had been several deaths in the family due to illness and accident. After two years, young Crane left the boarding school and was enrolled in a military school. Cadet Crane excelled at history and literature, but was considered fortunate if he managed to pass his exams in math or science. Later, Crane would say that the happiest years of his life took place at Claverack College. While he was known to skip class to play baseball, he rose rapidly through the ranks of his cadet battalion. Many of the men on staff were Civil War veterans and Crane became fascinated by their war anecdotes. It is thought that this is where he gained his first interest and initial research for his novel, The Red Badge of Courage.

Crane was interested in pursuing a military career, but his family persuaded him to consider obtaining a degree in mining engineering instead. He transferred to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, but again proved to be an indifferent student. Instead of classwork, he joined the baseball team and the largest fraternity on campus along with two literary societies. After a semester at Lafayette, he transferred to Syracuse University where he changed his major to Liberal Arts and took a single class in English Literature.

By this time, Crane was putting most of his time into writing. He was constantly publishing in the college literature societies, but also in the New York Tribune. In 1891, Crane decided that college was a waste of time and decided to become a full-time writer and reporter.

Crane began to publish a series of news reports from a small and once prosperous area in Manhattan. The Bowery shops and mansions had given way to saloons, dance halls and brothels. Crane frequented these places, claiming that it was part of his research for writing. He found the slums to be “open and plain, with nothing hidden”. Along with the news reports, this area would become the setting for his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

During this time, he began courting a married woman, Lily Brandon Munroe, who was estranged from her husband. He asked her to elope with him despite her family’s opposition. Crane lacked money and prospects, and Lily was forced to decline his offer. They continued to see each other on and off for several years, but while Crane did gain success via his writing, she still refused to marry him.

In 1895, Crane published his Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage. While he had never gone to war himself, the stories that he had gleaned from the veterans at Claverack College served as ample research for his book. It was met with critical acclaim and became a best seller. A reviewer for The New York Press wrote, “One should be forever slow in charging an author with genius, but it must be confessed that The Red Badge of Courage is open to the suspicion of having greater power and originality that can be girdled by the name of talent.” H.G. Wells, a friend of Crane’s remarked that his novel was greeted with “an orgy of praise”.

In 1896, Crane entered into a highly publicized scandal after bearing witness in the trial of a suspected prostitute, his friend Dora Clark. To remove himself from the scandal, Crane took a job as a war correspondent and departed for Cuba later that year. While on his journey, Crane’s ship sank off the coast of Florida. The time that he and others from the ship spent adrift in a lifeboat became the inspiration for a short story called The Open Boat.

The final years of his life, he continued to work as a war correspondent covering conflicts in Greece. He settled in England with Cora Taylor, a former madam of a Florida brothel. Suffering financial difficulties and physical fragility, eventually Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of 28.

The Red Badge of Courage tells the story of a young 19 year old named Henry Fleming. It is a simple coming of age story and about what a man faces when he goes off to war. Fleming enlists to fight in the Civil War, but runs during his first combat experience. He spends the next days of battle attempting to redeem himself for his act of cowardice. The plot is not what this book is remembered for. The book examines the young private’s state of mind, his motivations, his interactions with the fighting and with the other soldiers around him. The author uses a great amount of symbolism, based on nature and colors to help portray what the battle is like. The realism of what happens in the battle is intense and what made the novel original and memorable for its time.

I remember The Red Badge of Courage from my my high school days. It was a required reading assignment in one of my English Literature classes. I have never forgotten the book, although I did not count it as a favorite when I was young. While the story is centered around a nineteen year old boy, the concepts about war and its effect on this young man are very mature. I found the battle scenes to be extremely intense and Henry Fleming to be distant and unlikable to me as a young woman. Yet, it is hard to turn away from this book as it draws you into the conflict that these soldiers face. Now that I’ve reread it as an adult, I find that I appreciate the story and the writing style much better.

The novel has been made into a movie several times. Director John Huston created the first one, starring Medal of Honor Winner, Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming in 1951. In the mid-sevenities, a made-for-television movie starring actor Richard Thomas as Henry Fleming was released.

The Red Badge of Courage Book CoverThe Red Badge of Courage can be found for free download at Project Gutenberg.