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October 21, 2017

Crane's Restored Red Badge

On this day in 1982, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage was published by Norton and Company in "the only complete edition from the original manuscript." All previous editions incorporated all or most of the cuts and changes that had been made to Crane's manuscript for its original publication in 1895. Crane had made these changes, but many now agree that they were coerced by an editor with an eye to the marketplace, and were so significant as to distort and muddy the story Crane wrote and the theme he intended. The original edition, writes the Norton editor Henry Binder, remade Crane's hero into "a youth who finds courage and self-possession, instead of one who, if he changes at all, becomes at the end even more egotistical and obtuse than he is at the beginning."

The Norton Red Badge comes with a lengthy essay which attempts to back up the above claim. The general argument is that the original edition cuts and downplays Henry's attempts to escape responsibility for his behavior, and correspondingly overplays his growth. At the very end, for example, a final sentence not in the original is added (in italics below), helping to suggest a real reformation out of the ironic one Crane intended -- or so the Norton editor's argument goes:
    It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks -- an existence of soft and eternal peace.

    Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.
Crane had to publish his first novel Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, on his own money, and he could not have guessed that The Red Badge of Courage was going to be an immediate best seller. When he sought advice from Hamlin Garland on his book he was poor nearly to the point of starvation, able to take only the first half of his manuscript with him because the second half was in hock to his typist. (Garland thought Crane's story so good that he gave him $15 for the typist, and a steak dinner.) If the editors at Appleton, the only publishers that seemed to want his new book, insisted on changes that would make it more upbeat and heroic for the public, this must have struck the twenty-four-year-old Crane as a deal he could live with, or survive on.

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