Riders of the Imagination
George Monteiro on Stephen Crane Studies
Scholar and poet George Monteiro, Professor Emeritus of English and of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown University, was first introduced to Stephen Crane as a subject in 1954 while studying for his master’s degree at Columbia University. “I can recall sitting, one gray autumn afternoon,
in Columbia University’s Butler Library,” Monteiro told me, “reading John Berryman’s book on Crane, not because it was assigned in any of my courses, but because of my interest in Ernest Hemingway,” who had cited Crane as one of his most important forerunners.1 Since that first afternoon
in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan devouring Berryman’s foundational 1950 biography Stephen Crane, Monteiro has authored over sixty articles, notes, and reviews directly pertaining to Crane—an average of more than one a year for over half a century— along with scores of other articles, monographs, translations, and edited collections in English and Portuguese on writers as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Luís Vaz de Camões, and Fernando Pessoa. Monteiro’s prodigious body of Crane scholarship culminated in Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage (2000) and offered an ideal foundation for the edited volume, Stephen Crane: The Contemporary Reviews (2009).
No urban dweller by background, Monteiro was born and raised in the small village of Valley Falls in the township of Cumberland, Rhode Island.
Alice R. Clemente, a close friend of his since elementary school, describes their hometown as “one of those nineteenth/early twentieth-century mill villages nestled on the banks of the Blackstone River in a region historians now call ‘the cradle of American industry’” (148). New York City was thus a revelation for the 22-year-old Portuguese-New Englander and recent Brown University graduate, who notes that “New York was definable—as it might still be, though more ironically—as ‘accessibility to experience’ (Marianne Moore’s words).” “Having come from a small university,” he continues, “I found Columbia enormous, especially by the day’s standards. All day long and well into the evening its twenty-five thousand students (it seemed) crossed and criss-crossed the heart of the campus at West 116th street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.” Perhaps most important for the emergent scholar, Monteiro’s English professors at Columbia loomed large as the undisputed titans of twentieth-century literary criticism. “All I had to do was pay attention and I could legitimately consider myself to be a (minor) party to big literary doings. In Philosophy Hall new students paused to read the names on the office doors.” The “names” in question included F. W. Dupee, William York Tindall, Eric Bentley, Lionel Trilling, Richard Chase, Lewis Leary, Suzanne K. Nobbe, Roger Sherman Loomis, and Marjorie Hope Nicholson (then head of the English Department), among others. Monteiro never took a class with
Lionel Trilling, the department’s brightest star, but Trilling’s influence on him has always been immense: “When I found it difficult to begin writing a paper, I would then (and for years afterwards) read in The Liberal Imagination on any topic whatsoever until I felt inspired enough to go back to my own writing, usually on a topic foreign to Trilling’s concerns” (“Notes on Columbia”).
Indeed, in 1955 Monteiro was writing his thesis, under the direction of Daniel G. Hoffman, on a topic no doubt “foreign to Trilling’s concerns,” Monteiro adds, entitled “Sports in the Writings of Ernest Hemingway.” Hoffman, now a legendary poet and critic, was then a Ph.D. candidate working on a dissertation examining Crane’s poetry, a study based largely on new acquisitions at Columbia’s library that he soon after expanded into his seminal book The Poetry of Stephen Crane (1957). Columbia’s
Rare Book and Manuscript Library had just obtained, auspiciously for Monteiro and Hoffman, a raft of primary Crane material that still stands, along with collections at Syracuse University and the University of Virginia, as one of the most important repositories for Crane scholarship. After reading Berryman’s biography, Monteiro chose to give a presentation in Hoffman’s class (primarily focused on Hawthorne) comparing the “use of grotesque imagery” in Crane and Hemingway. Preparing for his talk, Monteiro discovered a study by R. W. [Robert Wooster] Stallman (then relatively unknown as a Crane scholar) on religious language and imagery in The Red Badge of Courage, “a critical exercise [Stallman] would elaborate on and further develop over the years,” Monteiro observes, “but which started out, innocuously enough, as an introduction to the ModRobert ern Library edition of the novel in 1951.” Montero later came across Earle Labor’s “suggestive piece” on the two now frequently compared writers “Crane and Hemingway: Anatomy of Trauma” (1959).
But it was John Berryman’s work that single-handedly ensured Stephen Crane’s reputation as a major American author, offering the first credible portrait of Crane in part by debunking much of Thomas Beer’s notoriously fictitious Stephen Crane: A Study in American Letters (1923). Beer’s rousing biography distorted Crane scholarship (and continues to do so) with a torrent of fabricated quotes, whole letters it later turned out, and unverifiable “facts” about the author’s tragically brief life and career. Beer died when Monteiro was only eight years old, but he met John Berryman at Brown while Berryman was substituting for the poet Edwin Honig.
Monteiro received his B.A. at Brown in 1954 and his Ph.D. in 1964 after completing his dissertation “Henry James and John Hay: A Literary and Social Relationship” (directed by Hyatt H. Waggoner); a year later Brown University Press published his book Henry James and John Hay: The Record of a Friendship. John Shroeder, Monteiro’s senior colleague at Brown’s English Department, recollects that in terms of advancement in the mid-1960s “making George’s case took but small effort on my part. His publications were even then myriad, his scholarship wide-ranging, his teaching chrysostomatical” (130). Monteiro continued teaching at Brown in a variety of capacities for the bulk of his career, but he recalls that as early as 1963, the year before he finished his Ph.D., Berryman “told a colleague of mine (before he knew I was his colleague in the English Department at Brown) that [one of my articles] was the best essay on Crane in twenty years and one of the five best ever written on Crane.”
The essay was “Stephen Crane’s ‘The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,’” a breakout work for Monteiro, published that year in Neil D. Isaacs’ and Louis H. Leiter’s Approaches to Short Fiction (1963) and subsequently reprinted in the second edition of R. F. Dietrich and Roger H. Sundell’s instructor’s manual for The Art of Fiction: A Handbook and Anthology (1974; and reprinted in later editions), and ultimately incorporated as a section of Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage. This landmark exposition on one of Crane’s finest stories effectively launched Monteiro’s reputation as a Crane scholar, and it retains “personal importance” for him because he was “able to read a great story in a far-reaching way using everything I knew about literary analysis at the time.” As late as 2
000, when Monteiro updated this piece for inclusion in Blue Badge of Courage, Lionel Trilling’s muse-like influence remains clear, specifically in Monteiro’s use of Dionysian and Apollonian conflict as found in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and James George Frazer’s discussions of the “intercalary period between the old and the new” in The Golden Bough (Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge 160). Trilling taught both books in his course on “Modern Literature” at Columbia and includes discussions of them in Beyond Culture:Essays on Literature and Learning (1965), a book Monteiro has read and reread throughout his life.
Monteiro was also befriended by Berryman’s challenger R. W. Stallman in the mid-1960s, and a few years later he and Stallman collaborated on a recording for Sussex Tapes entitled “Henry James and Stephen Crane” (1972). Monteiro notes that “Stallman did most of the talking about James—almost if not exclusively about the way imagery works in The Portrait of a Lady—and I talked a good deal about ‘The Open Boat’— naturalism, the religious images and ideas of the time that Crane questions and parodies in the story.” Unfortunately, the recording is difficult to locate now. It was a labor of love, and Monteiro ultimately took home about $50 in royalties. He spent the night before the recording at Stallman’s home in Storrs, Connecticut, near where he now lives in Windham with his wife Brenda Murphy, a fellow Crane scholar and a professor at the University of Connecticut. Stallman was teaching at UConn, and the
two maintained a “sporadic correspondence” until Stallman’s death at 71 in 1982.
Stallman’s papers now reside at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Berryman’s at the University of Minnesota, and Beer’s at Yale University. Syracuse University has collected the papers, through the efforts of Paul Sorrentino, of Crane scholar Melvin H. Schoberlin. Over the years, careful researchers like Monteiro, John Clendenning, Paul Sorrentino, and Stanley Wertheim have mined these resources to chart the development (and egregious missteps) of Crane scholarship since its inception.
Establishing Crane studies as a legitimate subject of inquiry proved difficult for the earlier critics. “The first major problem in Crane scholarship was biographical,” Monteiro says. “I was personally alerted to this when S. Foster Damon, the great Blake scholar, told me an anecdote or two about Crane’s days at Lafayette College that he had managed to collect for a book on ‘scandals’ (which, finally, he did not write), adding that although he had conducted interviews in New York and elsewhere he could not get at the facts of Crane’s biography. He couldn’t get people to talk about Crane’s life.” (Monteiro doesn’t remember the details of Damon’s anecdote, except that “it didn’t seem quite so scandalous by the time that I heard it in the late fifties or early sixties.”)
Nota: O autor Robert M. Dowling is an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University.