Stephen Crane and the Green Place of Paint*

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Iris Ralph

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Department of English, NTNU


This paper addresses the influence of French Impressionist painting on the late nineteenth-century writer Stephen Crane (1871-1900), a key figure in the movement of literary naturalism and the author of, among other stories, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, The Red Badge of Courage, The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, and The Blue Hotel. A journalist and war-time correspondent as well as a literary figure, Crane produced a remarkable number of poems, prose pieces, short stories, and “sketches” in a period of time spanning little more than a decade. Much of his work is characterized by formal devices analogous to Impressionist painting’s seemingly antithetical devices of atmospheric (or animated) paint and flat paint. These formal devices put into question normative, anthropocentric distinctions between human and nonhuman subjects and objects. The short story “An Experiment in Misery” (1889) describes in impressionist painterly language the city’s human and nonhuman subjectobjects that implies that ecogenic (nonhuman-made) human and nonhuman subject-objects are outcast, defaced, or bullied by the anthropogenic (humanmade) environs of the modern industrial city. The influence of French Impressionist painting on Crane has been addressed by scholars. However, these scholars do not comment on its ecocritical significances. I argue that Crane’s animation of the nonhuman figure and the oft-commented on flattening or caricaturing of the human figure by Crane express a nascent ecological argument.