Like many others, I first read Stephen Crane when I was assigned to read The Red Badge of Courage for a class in American Literature. As long ago as this was, when I read his Maggie: Girl of the Streets (some would count this as a short story, others as a novella) the feel of the prose of Crane came back to me. Crane is at the start of the American tradition of newspaper man turned literary.
I am currently reading through Ford Madox Ford's magisterial work The March of Literature. Ford was an incredibly well read person with an amazing memory for what he read. His judgments of the quality of works may be idiosyncratic at times and should not be taken as the word from on high but I take whatever he says on a writer very seriously. Ford classifies Crane (1871 to 1900-New Jersey, USA) as "American Naturalism" in the same vein as Zola in French Naturalism. Ford has a simple definition of "Naturalism"-literature that exposes the fact that all people are corrupt and evil! Of course Ford is being a trifle facetious but not all that much.
In The March of Literature Ford very highly praises Crane's Maggie: Girl of the Streets as among the very best literary prose written in America in the 19th century. I did some checking and found I could read this short work at Dailylit.com so I decided to read it.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a set in its time, the 1890s, in the roughest part of New York City in the areas where poor first and second generation immigrants (Irish from the character names and the knowledge we have of the times) make their homes. Maggie's father is a brutal drunk and her mother is not much better. One night Maggie's brother Tommie gets into a fight. His good friend Jimmie saves him from being badly hurt or even killed. Tommie takes Jimmie home with him. Year go by and in time Maggie and Jimmie begin to form a relationship. I don't want to relay the plot action (it is not to hard to guess given the title of the work!) so I will stop here. The story will seem very like the work of Dickens (but with leaner prose and less vivid descriptions).
I found the prose of the narrative sections of the story very well done in what I call "newspaper man writes a story" prose. Here is a sample:
The inexperienced fibres of the boy's eyes were hardened at an early age. He became a young man of leather. He lived some red years without laboring. During that time his sneer became chronic. He studied human nature in the gutter, and found it no worse than he thought he had reason to believe it. He never conceived a respect for the world, because he had begun with no idols that it had smashed.
I do not really like "dialect" speech in novels or stories and this work is about 1/3 dialect speech. I think I dislike it is because it slows down my reading speed. Also I think the use of dialect speech can, perhaps unintentionally, end up as patronizing.
For sure this work is worth reading especially as we can read it for free at dailylit.com.