I'd previously read Crane's collection of short Civil War fiction, The Little Regiment and Other Stories, so I knew what to expect of his style. BeingI'd previously read Crane's collection of short Civil War fiction, The Little Regiment and Other Stories, so I knew what to expect of his style. Being a longer work, The Red Badge of Courage displays both its strengths and weaknesses in a more pronounced fashion. The main weakness, I would say, is Crane's tendency to take a basic idea and expand it, harp upon it, analyze it, until it becomes rather overdone. In this case the basic idea is his protagonist's fear that he may be a coward, and then, following his flight from his first battle, his attempts to justify himself combined with fear that others will find out. All of these feelings are taken apart and examined in such detail that it tends to become exhausting. I'd call Crane's work inconsistent—one moment he nails a short pithy statement or razor-sharp simile, and then the next he's getting lost in tangles of his own words, spinning out a strained metaphor or too-minutely dissecting a single thought or feeling on the part of his protagonist. On the upside, I found the actual scenes of army life and battle interesting—I thought the book picked up a good deal in the latter part, when the protagonist's regiment goes into battle for the second time. On the whole I think it's a worthwhile piece of Civil War literature, though the mixed literary merits did make me wonder a little while reading how it has achieved such a highly-regarded classic status....more
There's a lot to like about this Civil War novel. The young protagonist, Jeff Bussey, is a likeable character, and there's a good portrayal of his expThere's a lot to like about this Civil War novel. The young protagonist, Jeff Bussey, is a likeable character, and there's a good portrayal of his experiences as a young Union recruit from Kansas, as he goes from impatience to get a taste of war to eventual disillusionment with the destruction caused by both sides; knowing fear and hardship, forming friendships with good people on the other side of the conflict, and falling in love. The angle of the Cherokee Nation's participation in the war was very interesting, and something I'd never heard much about before. On the other hand, I found the writing to be occasionally clunky, with abrupt changes of perspective or jumps from one subject to another in mid-paragraph, and some slightly forced dialogue, which sometimes pulled me out of the story a little bit. But there's plenty of interesting detail about army and camp life, and it's a good story overall....more
Mark Twain's The Private History of a Campaign That Failed, a fictionalized version of his own wartime experiences, is different from most Civil War fMark Twain's The Private History of a Campaign That Failed, a fictionalized version of his own wartime experiences, is different from most Civil War fiction I've read. There's been a lot written about the disillusionment of war, mostly in a tragic vein, as participants discover the hardship and horror firsthand. Private History, a wryly comic short piece, takes a different approach, using humor to effectively strip away every vestige of romance or glory from the idea of war. It may not be tragic, but it's pathetic. It made me laugh, but it also left me with an oddly melancholy feeling, even as it ended with a humorous line.
It recounts the misadventures of some young men and boys who "[get] together in a secret place at night" (reminiscent of Tom Sawyer's organizing the band of 'robbers' in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and form an irregular militia company in the early part of the war. They do, as the narrator admits...nothing. Squabbling over rank, trying to ride unruly horses, and retreating every time they hear a rumor of the enemy being in the neighborhood comprise their troubles. The irony lies in that they seem to believe they are really in the war and accomplishing something worthwhile. Their one brush with action turns out to be as much a farce as the rest of the campaign, but sobering, when they shoot an unknown man in a panic while believing they are under attack. The narrator's guilt over this incident, which gives him a very slight glimpse of the difference between "our kind of war" and the reality, strikes the one serious note in the story. But as I said before, the underlying irony through the whole story makes it more than an amusing little tale. It's an interesting look at how humor can be employed to a purpose.
Incidentally, The Private History of a Campaign That Failed was adapted into a TV movie in 1981. I understand that the film also drew on another Twain source for the ending, his dramatic short story The War Prayer, written at the time of the U.S. invasion of the Philippines but not published until six years after Twain's death. According to an IMDB reviewer, the film portrays the unidentified stranger of The War Prayer as the ghost of the man killed by the hapless campaigners. It's an interesting concept, but I can't help wondering how well elements from two stories quite different in tone were blended in the film....more
The story that makes this collection worth the price of admission is the middle one, "A Watch and the Wilderness." It's not Brand's usual Western fareThe story that makes this collection worth the price of admission is the middle one, "A Watch and the Wilderness." It's not Brand's usual Western fare, but a haunting Civil War story. It's told in first-person by a young Texan serving in the muddy, heavily bombarded Confederate trenches, who manages to locate the Yankee sharpshooter who's been picking off his companions one by one. The narration is in the blunt, unassuming style that Brand handled so well, yet at the same time deeply poignant. I've read this story more than once, and it always leaves a lasting impression on me, perhaps more than any other piece of Civil War fiction I've encounterd.
The title story, "The Good Badman" is more in Brand's typical vein, a decent short Western in which the protagonist goes on the run believing he's killed a man, and decides he might as well play up to the idea people have of him as a vicious outlaw. A few scenes get pretty well stolen by an unlikely supporting character. "Speedy's Desert Dance" is a bit more dramatized and fanciful in tone, as were most of the Speedy stories - this one perhaps a bit more so, as it deals with the attempted kidnapping of a beautiful Spanish girl arriving at a coastal ranch by sea. I believe this was the last of the Speedy stories, and the ending is a rather nice touch to end the series....more
The wild tide of battle runs red, - dashes high, And blots out the splendour of earth and of sky; The blue air is heavy, and sul'phrous, and dun, And th
The wild tide of battle runs red, - dashes high, And blots out the splendour of earth and of sky; The blue air is heavy, and sul'phrous, and dun, And the breeze on its wings bears the boom of the gun. In faster and fiercer and deadlier shocks, The thunderous billows are hurled on the rocks; And our Valley becomes, amid Spring's softest breath, The valley, alas! of the shadow of death.
The background of Beechenbrook is even more fascinating than the work itself. The author, Margaret Junkin Preston, seemingly little-known now but highly regarded in her day, is an historical and literary figure who has intrigued me ever since I first read about her some years ago. She was the sister-in-law of Stonewall Jackson through his first wife, her sister Elinor Junkin. In 1857 Margaret married Major John T.L. Preston, one of the founders of the Virginia Military Institute and a widower with seven children. She eventually had two children of her own. She witnessed the devastation of the Civil War firsthand, enduring the hardships of home-front life, the invasion of Virginia and the loss of two young stepsons. Although these experiences undoubtedly inspired the trials of the representative Southern family in her poem Beechenbrook, the woman who became known as the "Poetess of the Confederacy" suffered personal ambivalence and conflict before coming to fully identify with the Confederate cause. A native of Pennsylvania, she had family on the Northern side of the struggle as well.
Now, I'm no poetry critic. To me, there are two kinds of poetry: the kind that rhymes and the kind that doesn't. I like the kind that rhymes. I can't intelligently critique Beechenbrook in terms of poetry, but I can say that I enjoyed Preston's style. The language is direct, clear and sometimes surprisingly (for lack of a better word) modern, in contrast to the involved and flowery style one expects from Victorian-era literature. I was particularly impressed by how Preston used descriptions of the changing seasons and weather to highlight events in the narrative, by drawing either parallels or sharp contrasts.
The poem is the story of soldier's wife Alice Dunbar and her family as they experience the war from their Shenandoah Valley home—witnessing battles from afar, exchanging letters with an absent husband and father, caring for wounded soldiers and seeing the destruction of their home. Although the descriptions of impassioned patriotism and nobility may seem extravagant now, the emotion that inspired them is real and palpable; the most poignant moments all ring true. It would be very hard not to feel moved by the time one reaches the end of the book.
The story is also imbued with a strong Christian faith, increasingly emphasized as the one thing that sustains Alice throughout her trials. One particularly compelling scene portrays a service conducted by an army chaplain who exhorts his men to regard the spiritual battle as even more important than the physical....more