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 short story, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" the feel of his prose came back to me.
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 what ever he says on a writer very seriously. When I read that Ford regarded Stephen Crane (1871 to 1900-New Jersey, USA) as one of the premier prose stylists of the 19th century I decided to read one of his short
stories, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky".
"The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" reads like the work of a newspaper writer turned to literature. Crane was in fact a journalist and a war correspondent. Maybe he sounds like a typical newspaper writer turned to literature because he set the model for this style of writing. The prose has a very no nonsense you cannot fool me feel to it.
As the story opens we are on a luxury passenger train with Jack Potter, sheriff of the wild west town of Yellow Sky, Texas and his unnamed bride of a few days. Both of them are unaccustomed to the luxury of the train and feel a bit out of place. Crane does a great job of setting out in just a few sentences how Palmer and his wife feel about the train ride. I really felt like I was on the train and getting ready to have an incredible meal in the dining car. We get a feel for just how big Texas felt in the days before cars and airplanes.
When the train gets to Yellow Sky, the town trouble maker and notoriously dangerous when drunk Scratchy Wilson has his gun on and is ready to challenge Sheriff Palmer to a gun fight. There was a strong demand for "wild west" stories at the time and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" is both a perfect example as well as a play on this genre. The story is also below the surface about a part of America in transition. 1898 was at the end of the wild west cow boy era and "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" is very much about that.
There is a very interesting turn of events at the confrontation between Palmer and Scratchy Wilson that really gives the reader a lot to think about. I will quote briefly from the story so readers can get a feel for Crane's style
Later, he explained to her about the trains. "You see, it's a thousand miles from one end of Texas to the other, and this train runs right across it and never stops but four times." He had the pride of an owner. He pointed out to her the dazzling fittings of the coach, and in truth her eyes opened wider as she contemplated the sea-green figured velvet, the shining brass, silver, and glass, the wood that gleamed as darkly brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil. At one end a bronze figure sturdily held a support for a separated chamber, and at convenient places on the ceiling were frescoes in olive and silver.Stephen Crane's short life was packed with all sorts of adventures. Wikipedia has a good post on his life and his work. I think I will read Crane's novella, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets soon.
I liked this story a lot and I admit it was a good change of pace for me from Katherine Mansfield.
The story can be read online here