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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Week in Literary History: Bring Out the Saints and Crane

Now that the fun of Halloween has passed us by, let’s welcome in All Saints Day, which is generally thought of as a Catholic holiday. However, in Poland it’s a national holiday, where people go to cemeteries to place flowers and candles on graves so that the departed can find their way in the darkness. Also, November 1st is the beginning of the Day of the Dead celebrations, which culminates with All Souls Day on November 2nd. And we can’t stop there, because Stephen Crane, born in 1871, shares this day as well.

Crane was best known for The Red Badge of Courage, which became a regular feature in a newspaper syndicate. And of course there's also “The Open Boat,” but the work I enjoy most is Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. I love his gritty portrayal of a family trapped in poverty. And despite its brutality and harshness, one can’t help but want Maggie to succeed even though her ultimate death is a foregone conclusion. It was a social commentary, which showed the power of literature as a means to create a social discourse about life in a tenement during Crane’s time. What’s also interesting is that Crane couldn’t find a publisher for Maggie due to the scandalous content, and he had to self-publish his first novel.

So in honor of Crane and this auspicious day, let’s revisit HFR #21 Fall/Winter 1997 for Jean Harfenist’s “The Provider.” This is the story of Jack Anderson, the hardware salesman, who is lost in his life knowing that he's the provider for his family but resenting it, and his one joy is singing with the barbershop quartet. “Jack felt free when he was singing. That was it: free. As long as he was singing, no one expected anything else; he was good enough. Marion and the kids acted like a jury the rest of the time, studying everything he did, judging him.”

Next, pick up the latest issue of Crab Orchard Review, Volume 16, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2011, and read “Rise” by L. Annette Binder. This is the story of Ethan, who—with his car—hit a girl wearing “a yellow dress and there were flowers on the skirt. He saw these things. The flowers and her lace socks and the book bag she swung in the air. Her older sister was a few steps behind. She was close enough to see but powerless to change things. The girl flew over his hood.”

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