On opposite coasts of the United States, Jack London and Stephen Crane fashioned the direct yet nuanced voice of the twentieth century. Contemporaries born in the late nineteenth century, both worked in the same direction, their prose breaking with the Victorian genteel tradition and using the vocabulary and rhythms of living speech, anticipating Hemingway and many other important writers to follow. Both London and Crane, moreover, called for urgent social reform as slums grew worse in the country’s major urban areas.
Despite the warm early reception of London’s work, it is Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage (1885), which described the experience of a federal soldier in a battle resembling Chancellorsville, that has become a fixture in the canon of American literature. Its direct, descriptive style, however, has much in common with London’s prose. The Red Badge of Courage begins: