Friday, July 12, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 80: Stephen Crane, An Experiment in Misery (#75)

Stephen Crane, "An Experiment in Misery" (1894) from Stephen Crane: Prose and Poetry:

When reading Crane, I like to imagine where the camera would go, largely because Crane has a naturalist/journalist's interest in externals and because his POV is often carefully placed in the world--either in the battle of Red Badge or in the streets of Maggie--but not of it. Like an Emersonian "transparent eyeball" (and yeah, there's totally a line to draw between the Transcendentalists and the Social Reformers), the Crane POV is presented as an unbiased absorber of the world; sometimes, it may dip into the mind or feelings of a character, but it never becomes stuck.

In this reading, "An Experiment in Misery" is somewhat interesting since it tells the story of a new tramp as he goes along. Isn't he in the world? Well, in this version he is, sort of. (There was actually originally a frame involving people possibly taking a turn faking as tramps, but that was removed; and it's been a long time since I read it, so I won't comment on that.) Even though this main person is supposed to be a tramp, he's suspiciously well-supplied with money and doesn't really know about tramp-life.

The rest of the story is pretty standard for Crane: we hear about what this main character--"the youth"--sees and hears as he goes to find a flophouse and a cheap restaurant. When he meets and befriends a person who looks like an assassin, that guy is marked as "assassin" for the rest of the story. There's really no psychologizing and barely any thoughts; the only time we get any internals is when the assassin talks some about his history and his thoughts about the different parts of the country.

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