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This edition supersedes the one-volume edition of Crane's letters prepared by R. W. Stallman and Lillian Gilkes and published in 1960. Like Stallman and Gilkes, Wertheim and Sorrentino include letters both to and from Crane, letters by his wife Cora to correspondents other than Crane, and Crane's inscriptions in books. Both editions include such ancillary materials, presumably, to fill out the sometimes sketchy narrative of Crane's rather short life.
Wertheim and Sorrentino include much new material. "Of the more than 780 letters and inscriptions included here," write Wertheim and Sorrentino, "almost 400 were not collected by Stallman and Gilkes. Among them are some 170 by Crane and more than 20 by Cora." Included is the previously uncollected Crane/Amy Leslie correspondence. Still, not everything is here. Stephen's letters to Cora are still missing, although at least some of them, Wertheim and Sorrentino are certain, remain in private hands.
The 1960 and 1988 editions differ in another major way. They handle the Crane letters first printed by Thomas Beer, and for which he serves as the sole authority, entirely differently. These include (with two exceptions) letters quoted by Beer in his 1923 Crane biography, subsequent periodical pieces, introductory matter in the Follett edition of Crane's Work, and (in two instances, letters 733 and 774) a typed transcript of a letter Beer wrote to Crane's niece. The exceptions are Crane's letter to his brother William (285) and Cora's letter to Edward Garnett (445), one of Crane's earliest and most perceptive critics. Stallman and Gilkes place Beer's Crane letters chronologically throughout, whereas Wertheim and Sorrentino banish them to an Appendix. Stallman and Gilkes had guessed that Beer must have destroyed the originals of the letters he had used, and both Stallman and John Berryman, his immediate predecessor in Crane studies, had voiced their suspicion that Beer might have tampered with Crane's words, but Wertheim and Sorrentino go further. They undermine the letters' authenticity, calling them "Beer's probably apocryphal or bowdlerized letters." Their authority subverted, these letters now give off different meanings, their import modified. Beer's letters offer the only documentation for Helen Trent of "the most beautiful arms," the explanation of how Maggie's pseudonymous author—Johnston Smithcame into being, along with the details of the book's exorbitant production costs exacted by that still unidentified "firm of religious and medical printers," his low opinion of missions, the prostitute who threw a knife at Crane ("It flew over my shoulder and stuck into the wood beside my ear and quivered so that I can [End Page 229] still hear the noise"), his extended remarks about his mother ("a very religious woman"), and his wistful memories of baseball ("But heaven was sunny blue and no rain fell on the diamond when I was playing baseball"). Truth must be served, but I do regret having to give up that bit about Crane's trying to break up a fight between two locals in Nebraska. And oddly even Wertheim and Sorrentino are not immune from what will perhaps be a lingering subconscious dependence on Beer's authority, for while letter 761, an excerpt identified as addressed "To an Unknown Recipient" and deriving from Beer's Introduction to Volume VII of Follett's edition of the Work, is rightfully relegated to its proper place in the Appendix, the same excerpt appears among the correspondence as 608, where its provenance is given as Berryman's 1950 volume on Crane, and where Berryman's query as to whether the addressee might not be Thomas Hutchinson is followed. It is apparent that Beer is Berryman's source.
Reading Crane's (and Cora's) letters brought home anew a painful truth about Crane's life after his removal from New York City late in 1896 and his first meeting with Cora Howarth Murphy Stewart, "the madam of one of Jacksonville's most fashionable houses of assignation." That encounter initiated changes in Crane's life that brought to...