- Writer in Motion: The Major Fiction of Stephen Crane: Collected Critical Essays by Donald Pizer
At first blush, Donald Pizer’s Writer in Motion: The Major Fiction of Stephen Crane: Collected Critical Essays is a greatest hits album, if you will, of Pizer’s scholarship on Crane. The author readily admits in his preface: “[I] am offering a book on Crane’s major fiction which is a collection of my previously published essays on the subject” (viii). Like a greatest hits album, the work showcases some of Pizer’s [End Page 270] finest work on three of Crane’s major pieces of fiction, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, George’s Mother, and The Red Badge of Courage. However, Pizer’s book is much more nuanced. His design for his project is to examine “two related major strands” in Crane’s work (viii). The first is that Crane was indeed a writer in motion “who continually grew as an interpreter of the human condition and as an imaginative artist” (viii). Pizer asserts that any critical undertaking of Crane needs to involve studying both the development of Crane’s work and artistry as a whole and over time. The second strand Pizer pursues is “the usefulness of naturalism as a means by which to understand the dynamic of Crane’s changing ideas” (ix). Pizer is successful in both endeavors.
The first section of the book focuses on Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Pizer argues that Crane’s use of naturalism allows him to successfully “interpret the human condition” in Maggie. This holds true not just for Maggie, but, according to Pizer, for Crane’s other major works: George’s Mother and The Red Badge of Courage. The primary example Pizer calls attention to in this section surrounds the inclusion/exclusion of the “huge fat man” at the end of Maggie. We can look at the presence or absence of the “huge fat man” as being important in and of itself, but, for Pizer, a specific example like this within the context of naturalism gives us a more complete understanding and appreciation of the nuances of the work.
The second section of Pizer’s study mirrors the trajectory of Crane’s major fiction. As Pizer argues that George’s Mother is a bridge between Maggie and The Red Badge of Courage, so does Pizer’s brief section on George’s Mother serve as the bridge between his in-depth studies of Maggie and Red Badge. While the focus here primarily is on a gendered coding of experience for George, as Pizer explains, “George’s defeat also expresses one of Crane’s central ideas about the human condition in any social context, since George’s fall results from his effort to establish his selfhood and find satisfaction in life within the limited possibilities of the false and even self-destructive codes of belief which society has presented him” (62). This observation links George’s fate to both Maggie’s and Henry Fleming’s. For if “the critic is required to grasp both the individuality of a specific work and its role as a bridge from the immediate past to the near future” (57), then this brief section accomplishes what it should.
Like the section on Maggie, the chapters on The Red Badge of Courage focus on the controversies surrounding the text, primarily having to do with self/censorship and editing. As in the chapters devoted to Maggie, Pizer places these issues within the broader context of naturalism. In the chapter “Naturalism: An Essay in Definition,” Pizer states “that the naturalistic novel usually contains tensions or contradictions, and that the two in conjunction comprise both an interpretation of experience and a particular aesthetic recreation of experience” (92). This is the crux of Pizer’s argument and what this compilation of essays, collectively, defines for Crane’s work. To separate naturalism from Crane’s form is to miss the point of Crane’s (and Pizer’s for that matter) work entirely. [End Page 271]