The Most Overrated Work Of Fiction Of All Time

Stephen Crane’s “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets” is my nomination for The Most Overrated Work Of  Fiction Of All Time. Naturalism is usually lurid, melodramatic, moralizing crap, but Crane surpasses the bunch of them. The story is 50% The Girl Who Was Ruined, 50% Painted Woman Who Wear Skimpy Outfits And Drive Men Mad, 50% temperance tract, 50% anti-immigration pamphlet,  50% anti-Christian satire, and 50% local color (which may or may not be accurate). If you try to fit that much crap into one 60-page story the consequences will be dire.

Ma Johnson is drunk or passed out every minute of her life and spends her waking time beating her husband, beating her children, breaking furniture and crockery, and pawning anything she hasn’t broken yet. Pa Johnson is drunk all the time too, which must make it rough for him, considering he has to refurnish the house a couple of times a week.

These aren’t even the real dirty kind of immigrant — by their name they’re Swedes. The most innocuous immigrants of all horrified Crane. (Yes, he was the son of a Methodist minister. How’d you guess?)

Maggie dies two pages after the moment she hits the streets  and a month or two after being dumped by her seducer. No details are given. Based on what you read, she could have died of pure sexual frustration after failing to get any clients.

Crane didn’t like foreigners: Stanley Wertheim, “Unravelling the Humanist: Stephen Crane and Ethnic Minorities”, American Literary Realism, 30.3 (1998), 65-75.

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Published in: on June 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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