. . . Stephen Crane

. . .

The Red Pencil of Courage

The innate human need to muck around lies behind most revised-and-corrected editions, but it's an unusual editor these days that explicitly relies on whim: modern scholars figure they have to follow some explicitly stated rule instead.

Which just passes the burden of whimsicality on to historical gaps in one direction and on to the purchaser in the other. Do we choose the last thing that we're pretty sure the author had their personal hands on? Or the last thing there's no evidence of the author objecting to? Or do we throw everything up in the air and let the hapless reader pick and choose?

Stephen Crane was a fast and hungry writer who didn't seem too interested in yesterday's papers. So inasmuch as anyone cares to justify an editorial approach by biography rather than whim, the final extant manuscript of The Red Badge of Courage might have an edge over the final published version of The Red Badge of Courage. But whim will have its way, and the choice of editorial rule pretty much depends on which version the editor likes more. Henry Binder liked the one that was sent to the publisher; J. C. Levenson liked the pared-down one that got published.

An entire introspective chapter and big introspective chunks of others were taken out, mostly devoted to watching Henry Fleming's self-image swing from self-abasing flagellation to Byronic villainy and back again. Pretty funny stuff, but, yeah, repetitious over the long haul; if Crane had been interested in revision, these would've made good targets. But, more importantly, the mood of the book's last chapter was shifted from viciously ironic to inspiringly upbeat:

More than any of the restored cuts, the excision of this sentence makes me favor the Binder edition, because, more than anything else, this sentence is why I never much liked The Red Badge of Courage: it's the point at which Crane seemed to decide to give up his eccentric tough guy act and ride like thunder toward commercial success.


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All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.