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The Red Badge of Courage and The Blue Hotel: The Singular Love of Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane firmly cemented himself in the canon of American Romanticism with the success of works such as The Red Badge of Courage and "The Blue Hotel." His writing served to probe the fundamental depths of the genre while enumerating on the themes vital to the movement's aesthetic. Such topics as heartfelt reverence for the beauty and ferocity of nature, the general exaltation of emotion over reason and senses over intellect, self-examination of personality and its moods and mental possibilities, a preoccupation with genius and the heroic archetype in general, a focus on passions and inner struggles, and an emphasis on imagination as a gateway to transcendence, as well as a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, and folk culture are all characteristic of his stories.
However, the most traditionally "romantic" facets of his artifice are most fully manifested in a series of private correspondence between himself and a certain society maiden by the name of Nellie Crouse. It is these letters that serve to illustrate Crane's writing prowess as it transcends traditional Romantic genrefication. Through these letters, which serve as an informed testament to Crane's marked skill as a writer, we begin to examine Crane in the context of his own existence, devoid of the fictional trappings of his most acclaimed accomplishments.
What is most remarkable about Crane's series of letters to Mrs. Crouse is the tone of his love-stricken entreaties. He gracefully plays off of his burgeoning fame and his growing success as a published artist with good-natured self-deprecation and a propensity to undermine his own endeavours. The series of letters commences with a carefully constructed communique crafted to provoke a sympathetic response from Mrs. Crouse. Employing "inside" reactions to his celebrity to impress, he relies on an aura of exotic settings and playful humor to win a reply. Having succeeded in securing an apparently satisfactory response, he eagerly raises the temperature of the correspondence in his second letter. Without compromising further relations with Mrs. Crouse, his words adopt a more acute degree of intimacy, with Crane even going so far as to volunteer to accept her literary advice.
The third letter opens to the heart of the correspondence on Crane's side, as he begins in earnest to try and make Mrs.
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Crane's maneuvers are successful, and Mrs. Crouse responds enough to send her picture, inciting jubilation and worship in Crane's fifth letter to the beleaguered maiden. Mrs. Crouse's continued participation in this exercise of love inspires Crane to propose to her to enter into the posture of a relationship with him. Unfortunately, she responds negatively to this latest of Crane's romantic whims, and the sixth and seventh letters Crane entrusts to her care are drenched with formal feelings of despair and self-pity. The affair has flamed out, and there is nothing left for Crane to savor now that life has been reduced to nothing more substantial than "a mouthful of dust."