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Campus Classics

Aug-Sept 2008

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Trinity College professor Christopher Hager here shares his thoughts on Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

Among works of turn-of-the-20th-century American literature, some of the most absorbing are those long novels, like Sister Carrie, that invite readers to spend dozens of hours inhabiting an intricate fictional universe. Stephen Crane's New York stories are something rarer in the canon of American realism lightning-fast, impressionistic experiments in literary representation and many students find nothing more absorbing than their wide-eyed gallop through Crane's cityscape. The Penguin Classics Maggie: A Girl of the Streets offers a selection of texts that's difficult to find in a compact edition: not just Maggie but also another novella, George's Mother, and eleven of Crane's New York sketches, including "A Dark-Brown Dog," "The Men in the Storm," and the autobiographical denouement of Crane's New York writings, "Adventures of a Novelist." As my students read this volume, they pick up and follow thematic threads Maggie makes an appearance in George's Mother, and many of the sketches show from different vantages the tenement life of the novellas and detect formal differences. In the first sketch students encounter in this edition, "The Broken-Down Van," they discover that the rhythm of Crane's syntax can be far more revealing than any paraphrase of his descriptions. The named protagonists of the novellas yield in the sketches to "characters" that include crowds and street traffic. Larzer Ziff's introduction offers students a lucid narrative of young Crane's frenetic writing career, helping them to think about these several short works as an unfolding literary portrait of the city.

Christopher Hager
Assistant Professor of English
Trinity College, Hartford, CT
Course: English 408, American Realism and Urban Life