American literature

Life’s dark side: the catastrophic world of Stephen Crane

Long before Ernest Hemingway wasted his late career playing the he-man on battlefields and in fishing boats, or Norman Mailer wasted an entire career playing Hemingway, Stephen Crane was the most world-striding combative male intelligence in literature. And while he created the template for every ‘manly’ novelist who came after, from Jack London to Robert Ruark, he never sought attention as a man but only as a writer; and he certainly never issued many advertisements for himself. Instead, he almost surreptitiously explored the world’s most violent places with inexhaustible intrepidity. Living both privately and intensely, he wrote some of the most powerful prose of his generation, and died too young

No writer was better suited to chronicle the Depression than John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck didn’t believe in God — but he didn’t believe much in humanity either. When push came to shove, he saw people as cruel, selfish, dishonest, slovenly and, at their very best, outmatched by environmental forces. Like his friend, the biologist Ed Rickett, Steinbeck considered human beings to be no better and no worse than any community of organisms: they might aspire to do great things, but they always ultimately failed. In The Grapes of Wrath, the hard-working Joad family travel west, seeking a good life, and get taken apart by poor wages, malignant farm cooperatives and company stores. In Cannery Row, Mack and his boys want to repay