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NA420812 - CRANE: Red Badge of Courage (The)
The Red Badge of Courage
What happens when men face combat for the first time? Will the
comradeship developed in training combined with experienced leadership provide the stiffening when the attack comes? Or will fear and the desperate instinct to survive overwhelm the individual?
These are the questions raised in this remarkable account by a young writer, who, born six years after the end of the American Civil War, still managed to evoke the reality of what is often described as the first modern war. The Civil War, from 1861-1865, resulted in the deaths of 600,000 people, through the vastly improved armaments on both sides — artillery and hand weapons. The slaughter was unprecedented, though the tactics of warfare had yet to come to terms with the new destructive power.
Crane’s intimate account is based, it is thought, on the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1862. It looks at the experience of a young man, Henry Fleming and, through his eyes, a few friends around him. It was to presage the fate of so many young men in the Great War that followed less than 20 years after its publication.
Its lasting effect is created by the rounded portrait of Fleming himself as he tries to live up to the standards of courage and duty expected of —demanded of — soldiers in war. Unable to express his anxiety, unable to contain his fear, unable to contain his shame, Fleming becomes a man driven by powerful emotions and circumstances. Yet he can only compare himself to what he thinks others are feeling — Crane’s natural skill as a psychologist allows Fleming to react as the average man placed in turmoil and dread.
In view of the Great War to come, it was Crane’s remarkable prescience that he observes sympathetically rather than criticizes and accuses. It was this honesty that made the book so powerful on publication, and makes it a war novel for all time.
The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895. Crane, a freelance journalist, was forced to publish his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, A Story of New York, at his own expense as the topic and expression proved too honest for contemporary palates. But it was not possible to ignore The Red Badge of Courage, which followed, though it became popular in the UK, where Crane lived temporarily, before it was widely accepted in his home country.
He went on to gain battle experience as a war correspondent in Mexico and Cuba in 1896. In 1897, Crane’s move to England brought him in close contact with leading writers of the time, and he developed friendships with Joseph Conrad and Henry James; and he met H.G. Wells who admired Crane’s short story, The Open Boat (1898) — which was based on Crane’s personal experience of being shipwrecked.
He wrote other short stories and novels, including The Bride Comes to a Yellow Sky, and The Blue Hotel; but while respected and read, The Red Badge of Courage remained the work on which his reputation rests.
He died on June 5, 1900 in Baden-Baden, where he had gone in a
forlorn attempt to find a cure for advanced tuberculosis.
Notes by Nicolas Soames
Walter Lewis graduated from Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri and then moved to England to train at the London Studio Centre. He has worked in television, film and theater on both sides of the Atlantic. He has recorded many dramas for BBC Radio, including Hackers, Over Here, Auntie Mame and East of Eden.
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